Two years after the events of Sept. 11, nearly 25 percent of the nation’s job cuts were in the travel and tourism industry, according to a study conducted by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. Many of these layoffs were in travel agencies.
According to Cronenberg, one of the major financial challenges travel agents faced was the airlines’ elimination of commission for booking air travel. So she took a hard look at the industry and decided to adapt Pier ‘n Port by concentrating on leisure, group travel and cruises rather than targeting corporate clients.
Smart Business spoke with Cronenberg about staying competitive in a rapidly-changing market, building customer loyalty and being a strong leader.
How do you ensure Pier ‘n Port stays competitive?
I’m a forward-thinker. I don’t believe you can stick with status quo and expect to be on the cutting edge. I routinely step out of my comfort zone and outside the box.
It’s a great quality, but it can be a double-edged sword. At times, I have stepped too far outside the box and learned that it is not always wise to be a trendsetter. So my caveat is to be patient. Let others blaze the trail at times so you can learn from their mistakes. There is a risk in being the first to try out a creative concept.
For example, I have designed trips that were too unusual and unique for my audience. The reality is that Cincinnati is a conservative city. That was a lesson learned the hard way - know your customer and cater to what is comfortable to them.
How do you build customer loyalty?
Responsiveness is the first thing that comes to mind. The quickest way to upset and lose a customer is not to respond in a timely manner. Taking care of complaints promptly and with genuine concern is essential if you want loyal return customers.
It sounds simple, but it is amazing how many businesses can’t seem to pull this off. We have so much competition that we cannot afford to anger customers by being sluggish in reacting to questions or concerns.
What do you think are the most important qualities of a leader?
Being able to lead with confidence and persuasion. Strong leaders are able to convince staff that their decisions are good ones, in the best interest of the company and the employees. It is most critical to get the support and consensus of immediate supervisors so that they can serve as advocates of the direction your organization is (going).
I also think the ability to fail gracefully and to learn from mistakes is the sign of a mature leader. I have noticed that the degree of success of leaders is closely aligned to how many times they have failed. The key is how they handled the situation.
How do you stay motivated to be a strong leader?
I’m naturally a driven person. I come from a family of entrepreneurs so I witnessed the hard work and rewards of being a business owner from a young age. What really keeps me going is knowing that we are building lifelong memories for our customers. What we do intimately affects a person’s life, and I never lose sight of that.
When a customer comes back from a trip saying, ‘Wow,’ showing me pictures and telling me what a fabulous time they had, it keeps me going. The job has many advantages but there are challenges and stresses just like any other. When we exceed someone’s expectations and can help them plan for their next dream vacation, it inspires me.
How to reach: Pier ‘n Port Travel, 1 (800) 486-5060 or www.piernport.com