What has become known as the Serenity Prayer — “Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” — is approaching the birthday of her 90th.
But it has never seemed more important.
Written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and embraced by Alcoholics Anonymous, poster printers, and Internet meme creators, it seems particularly appropriate for the travel industry in 2022.
More than any time I can remember, travel advisors and suppliers alike are navigating dynamics that seem beyond their control. Flight delays and cancellations are numerous and unpredictable. Past experience with specific hotels is no longer a reliable indicator of current conditions.
Do these fall under “things I can’t change”? Can their acceptance bring peace? Not likely. Ours is a service industry; Our implicit promise to people who book through travel advisors, buy a package or sign up for a tour or cruise is that greater benefits will accrue to them than to those who plan and travel independently.
The courage that some airlines and hotels are showing to “change the things I can” seems more focused on raising prices than on customer experience. This, indeed, takes cojones! Many airlines seem willing to risk long-term relationships, customer loyalty and, if reputation is truly tied to customer retention, future profits.
But perhaps they are looking at another clause of the prayer. Perhaps their perspective is that, because the public perception is that their collective problems are related to the Great Recession, they may see their current operational difficulties as one of “things I can’t change.” “. The test of the validity of this view is quite simple: Does it lead to peace? Maybe, short-term, for their shareholders, but for their front-line employees, passengers, guests and industry partners, not so much.
Any sympathy industry partners and consumers may have had for the problems facing aviation and hospitality during the pandemic is quickly fading. While travel advisors cannot assure customers that Flight A will depart on time (or at all) or that meals ordered through room service will appear promptly and hot, they are not powerless. in terms of value addition. trip.
In fact, the tools that travel advisors have always had available are still adding value. In the current situation, perhaps the most valuable tool of all is in place before the journey begins: setting expectations. Ironically, this is especially important when advising seasoned travelers who expect their previous travel patterns and experiences to repeat themselves. While it may seem counterintuitive that a sales process should focus on what can go wrong, in the current environment it’s a good place to start.
Setting expectations for existing conditions prepares travelers to understand why an advisor would recommend, for example, taking a more expensive direct flight versus connecting and doubling the risk of a missed or delayed departure. It explains why purchasing travel insurance and baggage tracking services are critical. It reinforces the value of having an attorney on their side if something goes wrong at their hotel. And if they’re traveling on a day when air traffic melts, it’s a tremendous advantage to be able to get in touch with a travel advisor with access to a GDS versus waiting on hold for hours.
While the role of an adviser in the past may have been to ensure a smooth journey, today it is about minimizing the risk of disruption and dissatisfaction. And counselors who have dealt with multiple clients for months in the current environment have gained invaluable experience in crisis management.
And even when things seem really broken, travel advisors aren’t powerless to engage in repair work.
One of the biggest frustrations advisors face today is losing contacts at destinations. Cultivated relationships with open-minded tour operators, hotel general managers, concierges and caretakers may be gone, but their (likely emphatic) replacements are keen to welcome calls that focus on building a relationship rather than to hear another complaint. I’ve always found that relationships formed early on after taking on a new job can be lasting, reliable, and deep. While losing an old contact is disappointing, meeting a new contact is often an opportunity.
I have great respect for the author of the prayer and understand that there are times when one must “accept the things I cannot change.” (I believe the modern expression for this sentiment is, “It is what it is.”)
The main insight of the prayer is the importance of having the “wisdom to know the difference” between what can and cannot be changed. It is perfectly true, for example, that the loss of important contacts abroad and the operational meltdown of airlines are, for travel advisors, “things that cannot be changed”. But this is not a call for inaction. Serenity comes from both accepting change and having the courage to move forward from there.