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Greeting and salutations fellow travel professionals. No matter where in North America you may be, the economy has become a topic of concern for everybody. Group travel, though multifaceted, is universally impacted by our current malaise. I would like to explain some of what I have experienced this past year and hopefully give you some tools to help you survive these economic conditions.

“Uncertainty”- This is the best word for the next 6-12 months. People are uncertain about their jobs, house value, retirement account and spending extra cash. Tour companies are uncertain about future bookings. Coach and aviation companies are uncertain about fuel prices. High fuel prices could "devastate" the airline industry and impair the economy, according to a recent report from the Business Travel Coalition.

"Already-depleted cash reserves are dwindling fast, and unless the fuel crisis lessens, airlines face not the now-familiar protrected restructuring in bankruptcy, but outright and immediate extinction," said the report. This is indicative of the Travel industry as a whole in many regards.

How can we gain a greater sense of certainty for work during uncertain times? Tour Managers are often not in a position to set our own contractual conditions. We try to fill our schedule as best we can, but cancellations are going to increase. How can we protect ourselves? Do you have a cancellation contract with your tour companies? I recommend that you communicate more regularly with whoever assigns you tours. Try dropping by the office if you can. This shows that you are committed to the season and you also may be able to gain more insight into the health of the upcoming season. Tour Companies are dealing with increased uncertainty; help them by being a certainty.

Tour companies know that they will lose some Tour Managers during this economic downturn as we must recognize that some tour operators will also go under. The financial experts recommend a flight to quality and I recommend it as well for the source of your income. Are most of your tours with quality companies that will survive these times?

So where is the optimism? One good thing about a slowdown is that it is followed by upturn in bookings. Many Tour Managers will use these depressed times to change careers or take on a second job to make ends meet. The supply pool of professional Tour Managers dwindles. The dwindling pool of professional tour managers lags the tourism economy in general. As times get worse, more TMs leave the profession. As the economy picks up and bookings increase, there is a brief shortage of professional Tour Managers. This is the best time in the economic cycle to get hired by your tour company of choice. Start planning now. Plant the seeds of business connections that will flourish after our current drought.

I am interested to know how you are being affected by these times. I have already had an instance where a driver did not want to drive a foot more then necessary due to high fuel prices. What stories do you have? Are your companies absorbing the new baggage fees smoothly? Are they raising the price of their tours to match inflation? Is your pay increase also matching inflation (currently 5% in the US)? Remember, a 3% pay increase with 5% inflation is actually a reduction in pay. I will compile and disseminate your input for our next newsletter. Together we are strong. Be apart of IATM. Share your story.

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