SEATTLE Travel agency survival in poor economic times and an
ongoing fear of flying, especially to international destinations,
are among the top issues most important to travel agents.
That conclusion was among the myriad of topics discussed at the
third Hackerfest here last week, sponsored by the members of the
online e-mail forum, Travel Agent Digest.
TAD, founded in 1998 by Julian Cook, was organized “because
travel agents did not have a place to call home,” according to its
Web site, www.travelhacker.net. Its moderator is Thomas Speight,
owner of All About Travel in Spokane, Wash. Online, members can
discuss issues, kvetch, rant, ask questions about suppliers, hotels
or services, and find out what’s happening to other agents across
The Hackerfest was organized by the agent members and hosted by
Sheila Hyman, owner of Tanforan Travel in San Bruno, Calif.
The weekend event featured a breakfast seminar by Holland
America Line’s Dave Stockert; a success story panel; a seminar on
cruise sales and another on selling up, not down; a session on
selling air consolidators; an update on CRS issues by consultant
Walter Gay; a talk on “Why Consortia?” by WESTA’s general manager
Mike Estill; and the final-day roundtable discussion on the most
important issues facing travel agents.
It was the latter session that got the members fired up, even
very early on a Sunday morning.
Agents responded that the bad economy is affecting certain parts
of the country differently, with Western agents doing a little
better than counterparts in the East; the airport security hassles,
as well as the poor service aboard airplanes these days, are
contributing to the measurable drop in the number of air
passengers; and there seems to be an ongoing search for “safe”
Domestic drive markets are increasing, as everyone knows, but
the agents said that it’s hard to make a living selling Branson
Promotion & Flexibility
Other issues that are important to agents included the need for
visibility and promoting travel agents and their services. Members
responded that the public’s perception is “we’re gone.”
Also, agencies must come up with new business models to reflect
the changing times. Flexible business plans are needed because
agents agreed that a lot of events are out of their control. Agents
should re-train not only their staffs but their clients as well,
and managing client and supplier relationships are more important