Opinion: Bad news will come, you just have to be ready for it

By Charles Duncombe, marketing director at Holidays Please 

When I think about the travel industry for 2012 I can’t help think of the phrase, ‘It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the sudden stop’.

Even if there is a slight fall in demand in 2012 I think most travel companies will cope. However, if we continue to see the sudden stops and starts in consumer demand that have occurred in 2011 then it could be a different story.

These stops and starts have happened when ‘bad news’ stories hit the front pages and knock consumer confidence.

Recent examples have been far too abundant and include the European debt crisis, travel companies failing, poor unemployment figures and global unrest.

The list is long and fairly unpleasant. The challenge is that many of these issues are, as yet, unresolved and so are set to continue in 2012.

In fact the stop/start booking patterns in 2012 may also be exacerbated by the Olympics. People will invariably be glued to their TVs while the games are on and then flock to their travel agent after the closing ceremony is over.

One saving grace is that at least this event is predictable and businesses can plan for it. Also, it may have a positive effect on overall booking levels as a bit of feelgood factor is injected back into the economy.

It is hard for businesses however to plan for bad news stories.

You often have to book marketing plans and decide staffing levels weeks or even months in advance and these get knocked for six if an unforeseen change in confidence grips the UK consumer.

As a business in 2011 we had our best ever year and experienced double digit growth, but still found we had to face the challenges of unpredictable demand from consumers.

The good news though is that, in our experience, when consumer bookings slow down due to a piece of bad news they generally come back stronger when the crisis blows over. 

A lot of pent up demand returns and overall booking levels are generally not too far off what they would have been without the news.

So as a business how do you cope with these events? I think flexibility is the key.

This ranges from flexibility in staffing arrangements (part-time working, overtime, weekends/evenings etc) to flexibility in marketing.

I think smaller, more frequent marketing campaigns will be the order of the day so that not too much money is wasted if they happen to coincide with some bad news.

Also, I think negotiations will have occurred behind the scenes to allow these campaigns to be changed at short notice.

Don’t get me wrong; I admire the big, £3m First Choice all-inclusive TV campaign at the moment.

I think it’s a really good advert. I do think though that the marketing executives involved are praying that that a big crisis doesn’t hit in January and demand goes from “all-inclusive” to “all-elusive”. 

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