The Ups and Downs of the Travel Business

I’m exhausted from a day of chatting, listening, learning, agreeing, and schmoozing…all with a head cold caught from days in a van where people were sneezing. I felt so bad that I had shaken hands with people that later I switched to a Michelle-Barack fist bump, or an elbow touch, to avoid passing along my cold to any more unwitting victims at the Travel Mart.

It’s funny in our industry…we’re all so optimistic and upbeat, but yet so many people in the business had a terrible 2009. One tour operator in Uruguay said that the worst thing that happened was when Brazil’s government announced that people shouldn’t travel abroad due to swine flu. That sank their year. Others told me in low voices that it’s been terrible, and that they have had to cut down their local staffs of guides and drivers.

The worst economic news of all is for the Patagonia of Chile, and has nothing to do with the economy. It’s the salmon virus that has thrown more than 40,000 people here out of work and cut the salmon production by 82%. Something about too many fish in too small tanks, and when one fish catches it, even the water remains toxic for the others.

Despite these gloomy perspectives, I still caught the familiar wave of optimism that keeps our business among the world’s most upbeat. I was shown maps of countries like Panama, and Costa Rica, and told about the wondrous places to see up and down those coasts. I was told about how excited people get when they return from seeing Antarctica; and the thrill people have after finishing a jungle trek deep in Peru’s rainforests.

We’ll get through this, yes we will, because our business always does and in the end, tourism is the most sustainable and adaptable businesses there is. Those cheering locals outside the bus put a smile on my face last night. The hundreds of locals working the catering and other jobs here counted on this big conference to help them out and I’m proud that we all came to this remote place for our meeting this year.