With this annual survey issue, we once again provide readers with the most important research conducted in the travel industry this year. This research includes an exclusive survey of agents, commissioned by our parent company Northstar Travel Media and conducted by famed researcher Stanley C. Plog. However, as you read this issue’s cover story, "Proceed With Caution
", keep in mind that the unpredictability of the dramatic financial events of recent weeks makes it nearly impossible to predict future market conditions.
Of course, you don’t need extensive research — or a crystal ball — to tell you that we are entering challenging times for travel. While there are plenty of bright spots out there, most agents are going to once again find themselves tested. The agents that will weather the storm the best, however, will be the ones that see this time as an opportunity to reinvest in their business. These agents will look to reach out to new customers, while shoring up their base; they will make internal changes so that their businesses are more streamlined and efficient; and they will recommit themselves to professional education in order to further separate themselves from their competition.
Speaking of educational opportunities, I just recently returned from South Africa where I was previewing the site and program for ASTA’s 2009 International Destination Expo (IDE), which will be held March 8-11. This event will bring more than 500 agents to Sun City, South Africa, for a trade show, educational seminars and hands-on site inspections and regional tours. The goal of the expo is to educate agents on one of the most popular regions in the world for travelers, and every agent in attendance will leave the show as a graduate of South Africa’s destination specialist program. Not only will agents benefit from the information and experience at the IDE, but they will come back with another certification to help differentiate themselves to consumers — adding another weapon to their arsenal during these tough economic times.
While we hope that the research we provide here will help readers, it is also each agent’s responsibility to do his or her own research and educate themselves in whatever way he or she can. Agents that don’t adopt a proactive approach might be able stay afloat during boom times, but will most likely sink when the seas get stormy.