Words by Deanna Byrne
GOING INTO ANY NEW YEAR, it is normal to step back and take stock of how far we have come, what got us here and how we could have done things differently. We begin designing a road map that outlines where we want to go and what we need to build on.
Ironically, social media has made society a bit less social. Years ago, we went to a library to do research – those days are long gone. People use the Internet to source vacations, gather information and create their own itineraries, based on the information of others. It has made everyone think they are an expert.
As we surf for hours, we see what others are doing in the travel industry and, if you have even an ounce of entrepreneurship within your blood, you get ideas and inspiration. The problem, though, is that inspiration is no longer part of the equation – it is the beginning of plagiarism, copyright and trademark infringement, and theft.
The travel industry is full of creative and influential people. Travel allows people to forget the typical day-to-day routine and escape to somewhere different. As such, we become less stressed and more creative. And we must continue to be creative while working within such a competitive marketplace. Everyone is vying for market share, whether you are a travel agent, agency, host agency, tour operator or a consortium. We want more clients, more seats on a plane and more members. It’s just business.
Here is the thing: how do we be better, more efficient and more appealing than the other guy? What sets us apart from our competition? Who says there is a certain way to do things?
In the travel industry we sell a commodity: travel. You are selling a service and clients are looking for the best. However, they are much savvier today and tend to push the boundaries with expectation and entitlement. The same can be said for travel agents.
Most industries have governing bodies and associations that require businesses and individuals to maintain a certain level of professionalism and ethics. In the Canadian travel landscape, there is none; there is nothing in place that protects the work of travel agencies, agents and other creators. Sure, there are restrictions on how and where we market, what we say and how we do things but there is nothing that protects the use of proprietary information, stealing of agents and business models without the lengthy course of legal action.
In 2011 we opened our host agency, The Destination Experts. We did not look at what others were doing, we did not take their templates and we did not steal. Instead, we sat down and designed our own road map: Where do we want to go, what do we need to get there and how do we execute? We took our years of experience in building direct sales teams and business training and applied it to travel. We designed our own recruiting platform and wrote all our training content. Not one word was taken from a competitor – not a single one. We worked through the challenges of designing a recruiting platform to allow inexperienced people with a simple passion for travel to enter the travel industry. If they could learn, we would do the rest. The excitement and exhaustion was exhilarating. Price points were set based on cost ratios. Again, we were selling a commodity. What is the cost to execute our road map? We were not a recruiting agency – we were a travel agency – so the idea of charging people thousands of dollars simply did not make sense.
The long nights and the editing… the struggle was real. However, from the outside, it looked like a very easy and streamlined operation. People see your success and want a piece of it, yet they do not always want to do the work.
Since the early days of 2011, I have seen so many changes. The biggest is the change in people’s perceptions through the widespread use of social media. The lines of what is perceived and what is real are blurred. These platforms allow us the opportunity to vent online and make emotional decisions that may, in the end, be the wrong ones. We hashtag our frustrations and seek to destroy rather than resolve; travel agents attacking travel agents, host agencies attacking host agencies and consortiums attacking consortiums. With this kind of electronic warfare, how on earth can people step back and make informed and educated decisions? Where have the ethics of business gone?
Part of the issue with the Internet and the rise of social media is that businesses need to make decisions fast and furious; they need to grab that market share in the 15 seconds or less it takes to gain the attention of the reader. The days of brainstorming in the boardroom are gone – the white board with a hundred ideas, the coffee-fueled late nights. These days, we jot down those ideas and e-mail them off to a team. However, often times that idea belongs to someone else.
Today, many teams work remotely so getting together for that Monday morning sales meeting is rare. We do Zoom calls and people turn on their webcams. The issue with this concept is the absence of social energy; one idea feeds the next one and so on. By the end of the call, a solid game plan is in place and ready for execution.
Now, in place of sales meetings, we share our vision and our excitement remotely. We mentor people and we build people. Then – sometimes – those people literally take our road map, add a new logo and call it their own. The problem is real and it is growing every single day. We have changed from social energy to feeding entitlement.
We have lost our visionaries – the ones who pave the road for change; the people who see the travel industry as one of opportunity, dream-making and global connection. We have lost the voices of truth and commitment. What we have created is one of duplication, plagiarism and theft. Swap a logo, steal an idea and call it your own. Instant gratification is a trend that continues to grow.
We need to take 2019 and make it a year of acceptance, industry support and growth. We need visionaries, with new ideas. We need to support them, not steal from them. We need to lift one another up – not knock each other down.
I have met so many amazing people throughout my journey in the industry – many who I now call friends. I love that I can sit with them, and share an idea and brainstorm without the risk of my vision being cheated. But I have also seen a worrisome trend of “seek and destroy” – entitlement and people pushing boundaries; failing to take responsibility and an inability to accept the truth. When you speak the truth you are fueling the inner voices of people who are very comfortable sitting within a victim mentality. We need to move back into a place of growth, new ideas and acceptance. We need to respect and support our competitors, and not quietly ignore the small crack in the wall which allows them to intercept and take advantage. You see, every single successful business and entrepreneur will have cracks. Failure is what makes them stronger. True visionaries will build upon those cracks.
As an industry, we must move forward to provide our clients, travel agents, competitors and tour operators with a level of ethics and commitment. We must use media to enhance our experiences – not hinder them. We are in a very volatile world and the travel landscape has changed. We must accept our weaknesses, build upon them and move away from entitlement into a place of perseverance. Make 2019 your year.