Local travel renders unexpected results.

Some days we all envision traveling far and wide to unknown reaches of the globe to find that elusive hidden treasure of the like we’ve never encountered before.  Well today was was one of those days.

Members of the staff pulled their resources together and collected warm clothing and small gift cards to local stores and eateries to hand out to the local homeless in and around our immediate neighborhood.  We divvied up the goodies and headed out with the hopes that the loot would serve those less fortunate well in this bitter cold season of giving.

We traveled north and south, east and west and strangely had some difficulty finding those we had intentions of helping.  We searched for blocks and they were simply not to be found.  Eventually we found a few and offered them what we had.  We took the remaining bags to a nearby rectory  where we were told that our timing was perfect.  Tonight they were having a gathering for underprivileged families and the items would be a welcome addition to the event.  So we left knowing our small efforts just might have the warming effect we had originally intended.

Upon returning to the office from our trek, we discovered two remaining gift cards atop one of our desks.  So we decided that one of us would carry them with on their walk to the metro that evening and hope to give those away to someone along the way.

Well I did just that.  As I rounded a corner I noticed a homeless man sitting to the side of the walk.  As I approached him, I reached in my pocket and pulled out one of the eatery gift cards and kindly asked if he could use it.  He slowly looked up at me, smiled graciously and asked my name as he took the card.  I told him as he reached around behind him and grabbed a small ruffled bag.  He then pulled out his pen and a red envelope from the bag and carefully wrote my name on it without saying a word.  He then lifted the envelope up to me and again thanked me graciously for the gift card and wished me a “warm and happy holiday.”  I smiled and walked on, not wanting to open the envelope in front of him.  He was clearly a man of pride.

I walked a block and opened the envelope.  What I saw truly moved me.  It was a simple holiday greeting card that read;

With best wishes
for the holidays
and happiness
in the new year

It wasn’t the words themselves that moved me, but the gesture.  Here was a man who clearly had nothing but the clothes on his back, and yet he took some of his meager  daily collections and bought holiday cards to give to those who gave to him.

As I said, some days we all envision traveling far and wide to unknown reaches of the globe to find that elusive hidden treasure of the like we’ve never encountered before.  Well, during the holidays, sometimes we don’t have to  travel far to find such hidden treasures.

Our best wishes to you too… “John”

Academic Travel Abroad

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Academic Travel Abroad: The Outlook for Non-Profit Travel Programs During Economic Downturns

We all have a right to worry about the present state of the American economy and the potential for diminishing enrollments for our travel programs.  This clearly is a complicated and worrisome economic crisis that is both similar and different from past economic downturns.

In the more than 35 years that I have been active in educational and cultural travel, I have successfully weathered several recessions as well as more than enough international unrest.

  • 1973-75 OPEC Oil and Economic Crisis
  • 1980-82 Iranian Revolution and Oil Shock
  • 1990-91 Economic Slowdown
  • 2001-03 Dot.com Bubble (+9/11, Iraq War & SARS)
  • 2007-? Credit Market Crisis

What is similar is that the economy is slowing down with both personal consumption and manufacturing declining while unemployment is rising.

What is unusual this time is the credit crisis which has seriously undermined the world economic system.  While the underlying cause is the real estate bubble, it has seriously impacted all aspects of the economy.  Until the credit markets are stabilized there is little hope of a strong leisure travel sales market.

Here are a couple of things I have learned from the past.

  • Leisure travel sales are generally thought to be a lagging economic indicator where sales only begin to drop off after the overall economy begins to stall.  This helps to explain why 2008 has generally been a strong year for many organization’s travel programs.  And, why early 2009 sales are down.
  • Conversely, leisure travel sales lag as the economy recovers.  If, as is now suggested by many economic commentators, the US and world economies will not begin to recover until the second half of 2009, we may not see resurgence in leisure travel sales until later next year.
  • Keep marketing:  it is generally accepted that companies that continue to vigorously sell in downturns come out stronger and with improved market share than those companies that cut back on promotion and sales.

The current crisis has hit right in the heart of the prime Labor Day to Thanksgiving booking season.  Add to that the fact that some travel industry observers feel that travel sales usually decline during and election year.  We all have experienced the hiatus in strong bookings between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Will 2009 be a good year for educational and cultural travel?  The answer will be in the December 2008 to February 2009 bookings.

David Parry

Academic Travel Abroad

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