Without some type of plan to steer by, travel sellers are flying blind. And the plans should be quite specific in terms of goals and timeliness, while allowing for flexibility as opportunities present themselves. This is the general consensus of agents that Travel Market Report recently spoke with about the importance of having a business and/or marketing plan.
“An agency cannot be successful without having some type of business/marketing plan to follow,” Amy Robinson, marketing coordinator for Travel Leaders/Donovan Travel, told Travel Market Report.
Donovan Travel has a combined business/marketing plan, while John Gawne, owner of a Virginia-based Cruises Inc., has only a written marketing plan.
Another agency with a specific plan in place is Inspired Journeys, Inc.
“We have a very comprehensive business and marketing plan that was developed prior to our ever opening our doors,” said Jerry Vaughn, president and CEO of Inspired Journeys, Inc. “Not having a business plan would be like taking a trip to an unknown destination without a roadmap… Our plans have served as the foundation of our operations from day one.”
Plans Follow Goals
Even though Gawne doesn’t have a written business plan he is keenly aware of his business goals and everything he does is intended to support those goals.
“Even a small business needs a plan, at least specific goals and a budget developed to support those goals,” he said. “As an independent contractor, my business plan is driven by revenue goals I set for myself.”
Gawne added, “The key to any plan is a specific goal and detailed actions and timeline… My plan consists of undertaking activities that will increase the number of leads I have, and repeatedly marketing to them to convert them eventually to customers.”
Flexibility Is Key
“Our plan is never set in stone,” Robinson told TMR, “as we need to be able to adjust and change it as we move ahead in the year… Our plan is more of an outline that we re-visit every quarter to update.”
For instance, Donovan Travel has set events that it participates in annually, but the agency’s business plan leaves room for other events. Additionally, Donovan Travel executives sit down with the company’s preferred suppliers twice a year to discuss how the agency is doing, what the suppliers’ marketing budget is and any new marketing tactics that are turning out to be especially successful.
“In those meetings we are able to add to or revise our existing business and marketing plan. We might decide to devote a month to increase our sales for a certain supplier so we create a campaign based on the goal. This might not have been in our original plan at the start of the year, but we have the room to add it,” said Robinson.
Another impetus for change, Gawne added, is the economic environment. “When the economy went bad in 2008, I knew that I needed to maintain or increase the marketing budget to reach the business goals I had set.”
Core Never Changes
Regardless of changes an agency might make to its business or marketing plan, one thing is important, Robinson said. “Our main goal never changes. The agents know the company goals and follow the directives that we have linked to the plan.”
Vaughn agreed. While Inspired Journeys’ business plan has been tweaked and updated since its inception 11 years ago, it has “evolved into a company statement of what we are, why we do things and how we are going to focus on the future… If you compare it to our original plan of 11 years ago, the basic tenets of it have remained consistent.”
As a travel seller Gawne is on his second career, having previously worked as the executive director of a university program with a $1 million budget. His travel agency now benefits from the knowledge he gained while overseeing the development of the marketing plan and initiatives his marketing director undertook.
For instance, he learned that the key to successful marketing is repetition – “And the choice of media is governed by the cost of those repetitions. I set a dollar target for annual marketing expenses and create a written plan for how I will spend it.”
Despite having a marketing plan already in place, when the economy went bad at the end of 2008, Gawne tweaked his plan to increase his marketing spend.
“I knew that if others cut back on marketing, I would stand out and be more recognizable if I stayed the course. The result was the best year since I’ve been in the business,” said Gawne.
Vaughn also stressed the importance of a marketing plan. “Not having a comprehensive marketing plan would create opportunity to significantly misspend or waste money on ‘spray and pray’ marketing,” he told TMR.
As part of its marketing plan, Donovan Travel incorporates events, direct mailings and Web site advertising.
No Business Plan for Some
One agent, who is near the end of her career, told Travel Market Report, a business plan is no longer necessary. After a little over 30 years as an agency owner, she said her only plan is to maintain her travel agency and enjoy the travel benefits it offers. She said she has no desire to grow anymore and prefers to choose the business she wants, like leading a group through Vietnam and Cambodia or sailing with a group on the Black Sea.
But for agencies interested in continued growth, Vaughn told TMR he believes a travel agency has a chance of being successful without a business plan only “if they are really lucky and have good intuitive sense for the industry and business.”
But, he added, “There is a much greater chance they won’t succeed in this highly changing environment that creates significant pressures on the business…. Even with a comprehensive business and marketing plan, being successful in the travel business today is very hard. Doing it without a plan is a prescription for failure.”