s the U.S. sits mired in another
recession, the travel industry is hurting more than at any other
People are not worried simply about the economy. They're
concerned about their safety and are fearful of travel.
It all adds up to tough times for travel agencies. Or, perhaps
we should say "tougher" times, because even before the events of
Sept. 11, many agencies were financially beleaguered. So what does
it take to pull out of this economic tailspin?
• Retreat strategically. There is no shame in settling for the
status quo and hanging on to what you have.
In a diminished market, it is unlikely you will increase market
share. Better to spend money and effort on providing a higher level
of service and satisfaction to existing clients.
• Help your clients survive.
Examine your operation. Are you doing the very best you can to
save clients money? Are you primed to help them navigate the
complex network of fare structures? Do you have systems in place
that help corporate clients track travel expenses and stay within
Have you negotiated the lowest possible hotel rates? Are you
using all of the tools available to make your agency not only look
good in the eyes of clients but also to appear indispensable?
• Enlist key employees. Owners and managers can't afford to go
it alone. By keeping to themselves the problems affecting their
agencies, they could further damage morale.
Enlist the help of supervisors and even front-line personnel.
Solicit suggestions and solutions.
You'll be surprised not only at the practical ideas that are
generated from within but also by the positive attitude this
openness can produce.
• Cut overhead. Look for ways to cut costs (staffers can provide
suggestions here, too). Remember, a dollar saved goes directly to
the bottom line.
• Provide incentives. Here is a worthwhile way to spend a little
money. Install an employee-incentive program to increase sales and
There's lots of help available from companies that specialize in
motivation. You might be surprised to find how affordable such
programs have become. So, while you can't make the recession go
away, you can make sure the recession doesn't take your agency with
Bill Chiles is president and chief executive officer of
Hickory Travel Systems, an international network of independent
corporate travel agencies.