For Mike Cameron, CEO of Christopherson Andavo Travel, 2019 is the year of the customer.
"We are focused on customer centricity," Cameron said. "I realize that sounds like, well, shouldn't everybody be focused on customer centricity? Of course. But we're taking it to a higher level."
There certainly are lessons to be learned from Cameron's strategy for his company (No. 24 on Travel Weekly's 2018 Power List), which has five divisions: Andavo Travel, Christopherson Business Travel, CV Humanitarian Travel, Christopherson Meetings & Events and All Seasons Sports Travel. In 2018, Cameron said, overall sales grew organically to $682 million from $614 million. The number of team members, both employees and independent contractors, increased from 425 to 480.
Cameron's customer-centric strategy comes at a time when consumer expectations are at an all-time high. He pointed to companies like Amazon and Apple that have a high level of service and great customer experiences.
"That's the expectation that we all have now as consumers for anything that we buy," he said. "Our expectation is that the service level and the digital interaction with any company will be as good as it is with the ones that are the very best."
To meet those expectations, the company has taken several steps. First was to divide all its products and services into three categories: those that pertain to the traveler, those that pertain to the travel manager and those that pertain to users of data and reporting. Of note: "Travel manager" is defined as Christopherson Andavo Travel's main contact at a business; in the case of Andavo Travel, for instance, that would be the independent contractor Andavo is hosting.
Each of those categories -- products and services for the traveler, travel manager and users of data and reporting -- now has a dedicated development team working on creating products and services, as opposed to what was previously a single development team, Cameron said.
The focus is on personalization for travelers, being more consultative with travel managers and creating a good digital experience for data and reporting users. Christopherson Andavo Travel's goal is to be "top of the line" in all three areas to ensure that each customer the company interacts with has the best possible experience possible.
"The world is changing," Cameron said. "It used to be that we felt like we needed to do things to make clients loyal to us. Now we need to do things to make us more loyal to the clients. The whole world is changing."
Overall, Cameron said, 2018 was a year of solid growth for his company and the travel industry as a whole. It was also largely a positive one for the stock market and the economy, but that won't last forever.
"What goes up must come down," he said, noting the U.S. is bound to have a recession at some point, whether it's in the near or far future.
To that end, he offered some advice to leisure travel advisors on how to prepare for a downturn now, when times are good: follow established, standard, good financial practices.
"Stay out of debt," Cameron said. "Make sure you have a rainy day fund. Make sure you're not in over your head on bills. Be cautious. It's really easy when times are good to spend money. It's really easy. It's a lot harder to save money."