And, when it comes to Baby Boomers, forget all of that do-it-yourself nonsense. Do-it-yourselfers went out with the poodle skirt and penny loafers over a quarter century ago. Todays and tomorrows generation of affluent Baby Boomers wants to be pampered. They are seeking leisure travel experiences that are customized, easy, exotic and exclusive, and which provide value and choice and that are seamless.
Moreover, they sure dont want to be considered or called seniors. Theyre looking for pleasure and for luxury and for personalized services, and theyre turned on by activities which are healthy and which are fun, as well as upscale and very special. They feel theyre entitled to it all.
In brief, Baby Boomers were born and raised, grew up and developed their business careers and lifestyle yearnings, during the affluent post-World War II boom economic era. As a result, theyve grown accustomed to being spoiled and catered to and doing whatever they like whenever they want to do it. They dont want to be told what to do or how to do it. They want others to do it for them. And, when it comes to leisure travel, they want competent travel agents to put it all together for them.
Because of their market size and potential, and their increasing dominance of the leisure travel scene, a whole new generation of cruise ships has been and is being built to their specifications. And, they like cruise ships with verandas, that are casual, on which the food is healthy, and in a variety of dining modes.
Also, they are looking for packaged travel vacations that are unregimented and which offer a broad range of experiences in a spectrum that includes adventure, ecology and the environment, as well as culture and value.
In brief, Baby Boomers, in large numbers, admit to wanting to be spoiled. And, that is precisely what the cruise lines and the packaged travel operators, as well as the hotel and resort developers, have been creating for them travel experiences that suit their lifestyle wishes and demands. Youd better believe that travel agents are an integral part of that formula.
Perhaps the only segment of the leisure travel experience which hasnt changed to accommodate the needs and desires of todays and tomorrows mighty army of Baby Boomers has been the airline industry. With the exception of First and Business Class trans-con, trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific travel, designed primarily for business travelers, air travel (with some significant exceptions) is strictly a matter of necessity getting from Point A to Point B, usually with a hub in between.
Most travel by air is none of the things that Baby Boomers are searching for in their quest for pleasurable leisure travel experiences. It is neither fun nor customized nor relaxed, nor is it easy nor personalized nor enjoyable. As a matter of fact, recent airline commission cutting moves have made it more difficult for Baby Boomers to book than ever before. This is because the airline industry has been attempting to direct them away from travel agents and turn them into a crowd of do-it-yourself direct bookers.
Sorry, airlines even though most Baby Boomers have computers and like to play on the Internet, they also want someone else to do the work for them. They want and need travel agents to make their air bookings for them. And, I am 100% convinced that the vast majority of this huge new group of leisure travelers will be willing to pay a travel agent a service fee to do the work for them.
What the travel agent industry should be pointing out to the traveling public, through its trade associations, is that every time the airlines reduce travel agency commissions and drive additional travel agencies out of business, they are, in effect, making it more difficult, as well as more costly, for leisure travelers to travel by air.
Thankfully, though, for the industrys surviving 25,000-plus travel agencies, there are extraordinary opportunities for them to expand their businesses, and to profit, far into the fast-approaching new millennium.
The vast host of new and expanded packaged travel opportunities, including the armada of new cruise ships coming on line, as well as other new forms of packaged travel, have the potential for turning on Baby Boomers like theyve never been turned on before. And, since there are so many new cruise berths and packaged travel opportunities, both the cruise lines and the tour operators need travel agents more than ever.
The cruise industry alone will grow its berths by some 45% during just the next five years. Carnivals new non-smoking cruise ship, the Paradise, which my wife, Lenore, and I and several thousand travel agents and related travel sellers were aboard last weekend, typifies everything that is new and exciting and which is awaiting tomorrows leisure travelers. Its 2,040 lower berths, representing 100,000 additional cruise passengers a year, are just the tip of the 58,000 plus new cruise berths scheduled to come on line between today and Spring 2002.
During just the past two weeks, I have met personally with the heads of the industrys six largest cruise lines and discussed the issue of air commission cuts and caps and their impact on travel agents. These meetings have convinced me that the cruise industry needs, wants and will do everything within reason to help maintain todays travel agency sales distribution system, a sales force capable of continuing to sell 95% plus of its berths far into the foreseeable future.
Even Renaissance Cruises, which spit in the eye of the travel agent industry a few brief months ago when it felt it no longer needed agent support, now finds that it cant go it alone and is asking for travel agent business. I know what Id give them if I were a travel agent, but Lenore edited out that portion of this sentence.
Discussions with leaders of both the National Tour Association and of the U.S. Tour Operators Association have convinced me that they, too, need a big, healthy and prosperous travel agent industry every bit as much as the Cruise Lines do.
There is just no doubt about it. The sellers of leisure travel products and services are just as anxious to preserve and to grow the travel agency industry as are travel agents themselves. And, without wanting to sound like a hopeless optimist, I have every reason to believe that some day even the airline industry will realize that it, too, needs a widespread network of travel agencies to sustain its future growth and profitability.
Thanks to the Baby Boomers, the Cruise Lines and the Packaged Travel Operators, I feel confident that the travel agent industry will share bountiful Thanksgiving Holidays far into the next century.