The ABTA conference brought together financial experts who painted a bleak picture for the travel industry. Companies returning from last week's briefing could not be blamed for believing that half of them won't be returning for next year's event. And the question every travel company manager is asking themselves is: what to do in times like these?
But with worldwide shares rallying and governments fundamentally unpinning worldwide financial institutions there are reasons to be optimistic. Travel has been hit hard before and each time it has recovered stronger. Companies will fail and be acquired. Travel professionals will have to think of innovative new ways to entice customers. And airlines will have to adjust to the increasing cost of fuel. But if one thing is for certain is that people will go on travelling and the travel industry will prevail.
And for those of you still stuck in the doom and gloom here's some quotes from optimistic executives who have seem their fair share of travel industry ups and downs: -
Tim Hughes, VP Commercial, HotelClub on his blog The BOOT: - ‘I am convinced that the Travel industry will not only survive this crisis but will come out the other end thriving. You might call me an optimist but my view is based on history.
The travel industry in America bounced back from 9/11 in a quarter. In fact the whole online merchant hotel business (and retail for that matter) was created out of the ashes of that tragedy. Hotels gave cheap rates to Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz etc. Expedia completed its acquisition of Travelscape and soon after bought HRN/Hotels.com.
In Asia, the whole business ground to a halt during the SARs crisis. Hong Kong and the region around it could not pay travellers to come visit. Now Macau is the centre of the gaming and Asian hospitality market. Bali has suffered through two horrific attacks and proposals for bizarre religious laws. Yet manages to survive and fight back each time.
In Europe London and Madrid also suffered horrific attacks in recent years. Yet still the customers flock to Spain and UK the for holidays and breaks.
Travel has survived tragedy and shocks before and will do so because at the core humans love to travel. But the secret to survival is reinvention, not hiding and hoping to ride it out. Growing through 9/11 came from reinventing online hotel distribution. SARs from reinventing the Asian hospitality industry. To get out of this Wall Street induced melting Bull will require the industry to once again find efficiencies in distribution, marketing and supply management. Mobile anyone?'
And from the very behemoth themselves: Paul Brown, President of Expedia North America, also a speaker at The Travel Leadership Forum@WTM 2008: - ‘Now is a time of change, and even uncertainty, for the travel industry. Rising fuel costs, tightening credit markets and other global economic challenges are impacting travelers, and therefore travel suppliers. Yet despite the issues facing travel, suppliers can weather the storm and identify new opportunities if they are willing to embrace change.'
As Tim Hughes rightly mentions, Expedia proved their worth after 9/11 and the travel industry landscape changed dramatically. So whether it's cutting costs by ensuring your website is used to maximum effect, or actively moving your focus on to lucrative emerging markets or simply sharpening all aspects of your business - changes you implement now will make you stronger for the future.