Friday, November 21, 2008

The OTHER Side of the Coin

Hi there friends and fellow travelers,

It has been a while since we last met; I have been rather busy lately… (Yes, with the CRISIS.) Grrrr, what a gloomy word. There’s truth to it for sure and things are changing as we speak, but some of this ‘crisis’ is also inflated by the media to such a towering extent that sometimes I open the newspapers and feel the world has come to a full standstill and there is no way back or forth. There basically seems to be no other remedy than hide in our cellars and hope for a miracle to get us out of this mess. (Or that is what the media want us to believe because they are actually making money of this...)

I want to share with you two thoughts that I think are relevant in times like these. One is about the phenomena known as the “self-fulfilling prophecy” and the other is about the real face of this crisis.

The Self-fulfilling Prophecy of the Argentine Economy

Here in Argentina the local economy has developed a pretty strange tendency; it crashes around every 7 years, like really hard, then rapidly recovers, returns to pre-crash levels in no-time, overheats in a blink and then falls flat on its face before anyone notices (well, most people at least), only to roll over and begin the same process again. It seems we are following a somewhat biblical routine here, which has now become commonplace in Argentine society. So much has this jittery economic movement taken place in the hearts and minds of most Argentines that pre-crash capital flights caused by those fearing the next hit basically cause it to happen. The circle has become complete and everyone’s worst fears come true over and over again because hardly anyone here still believes that things could go any differently. The idea of economic stability is simply not logged into people’s minds here and therefore nobody will give that thought and -thus that potential reality- a chance. I will not go into the theories about this actually being a controlled economic movement; anyone who has been here for more than a week can come to their own conclusions. What I want to say is this: if you allow yourself to give away control over your life to your biggest fears, they will eventually take over and that what you dread the most will become your reality. It is as simple as that.

The Real Face of the Crisis

As you can see on our sites, we are a proud ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) member and yesterday I read an interesting article in ASTA’s Smartbrief, based on a lecture given by World Leisure Partners’ Chairman and CEO Adam Aron that I want to share with you. To me his speech was:

· Inspiring, because it confirmed my belief that in times like these, when the going gets tough, it is positive, pro-activeness that will pull you through. These are challenging times, sure, but when did anyone decide that a good challenge should be backed away from? I mean, these are the times we can really prove ourselves, focus on doing our absolute best and showing ourselves and the outside world what we are; a company with vision, a team with heart, a continent with passion, a place to recharge your batteries.

· Relieving, because after having read so much negative, sad and sorry stories about banks sliding, companies going bankrupt, people being laid off by the thousands and international travel bookings going down (which is of course the only thing that really interests us here!), for a moment I almost believed them, the commercial journalists that will prey on anything that smells like “crisis” these days, as that seems to be the only thing anyone wants to read about. To my great dismay, because even though I am reading about it as much as I can myself, I am constantly looking for positive signals, stuff I can use to help navigate our little company through the so-called storm. The mainstream media, however, seem to want us to wallow in distress for a little while longer. That is why it was a relief to read Mr. Aron’s take on things.

· Reassuring as it put me back in the driver’s seat of my reality, where I almost thought I had no control anymore, almost felt as if we were going to slide like everybody else and would need a miracle to be saved… BS my friends, really, and pardon my French, but we are in charge of our lives, or our work, of our reality and there are tons and tons of things we can do to take this situation and make it work for us.

Let me give you a short excerpt of what Mr. Aron said: (here goes the condensed version of the text I just sent you)

In this era of 24/7 news cycles, the current bad economic news gets magnified.

"Doom and gloom," said Aron, is what the media lives for -- so expect them to wallow in it as long as they can.

"The media will tell you that this recession will be the worst and the longest because things are different now and unlike other times, this time the doom and gloom is permanent."

He added: "In every recession that I have seen, that is always what the media says...but we always get out of it."

And they also say the boom times will never end, added Aron, recalling how a few years ago a Wall Street Journal article waxed optimistic that the business cycle had been eliminated because economists had figured it out.

There is a reason for business cycles, said Aron.

"Think about your own businesses. In the good times, we all get a little sloppy and take on more risk and don't watch pennies quite as closely as we are now."

Businesses hire more people than they really need, take risks they should not be taking and take on new costs that aren't justified.

"What happens is that fat, inefficiency, waste and risk creep into the system, because millions of businesses are doing this at the same time."

Eventually, the economy can't sustain the inefficiencies and outsized risks and "so it crashes," said Aron.

"Usually, there is a catalyst of some sort and clearly [in this cycle] the banks were lending money to people who should not have had such loans. Companies were leveraged way too much and individuals were taking on too much debt and the weight of all that crashed the system in a big way -- and quickly."

Aron recalled that last May and June everything was fine, but come September, "Armageddon was around the corner."

And just as in boom times, the actions of millions of businesses cutting costs to adjust to the downturn and consumers cutting back on spending all at the same time, threw the economy into recession.

Then at some "mystical point" after millions and millions of businesses and individuals have cut waste and costs, the economy "rises from the ashes."

The remarkable thing is that there is a simple explanation for the business cycle but you cannot predict how or when it will turn upward, said Aron.

But there have been benefits in the recent difficult times and a major one is the drop in the price of oil.

"Think of what a boon that is to the economy. Think how beneficial that is for consumers who were being stretched in July."

Aron did have a forecast: "As sure as we're sitting here, two years from now things will be rosy again" because downturns are usually six to 24 months long and good times three to six years.

Nice eh? A different and most definitely more realistic view, more pragmatic, more my way at least.

I hope I have managed to give you an idea of how I see this: we make our own reality and are capable to turn things in any direction we damn well please. Our brain is not much more than a (highly sophisticated; ok!) muscle which we train to send our body certain stimuli that make us walk, for example. Or sit behind a keyboard and write a piece of text and throw it online. Or read it. And when we read that piece of text (written by someone else for whatever reason) we have a free choice to take that information for granted or to reflect on it and make a proper decision on how it is we want to experience it, and what we want to do with it. And that in the end will greatly influence the way we live our lives… So my message to you today is this: Why don’t you put the paper aside today and get out there, play with your kids, score some goals, make some friends, have some fun, do some dancing in the rain (and look how the US Dollar is slowly gaining strength against the Argentine Peso and plan your next trip here! J). Two years from now this will all be behind us and things will be going boringly well again. For now let’s look at this crisis and make the best of it!

Thanks and may the force be with you…



Carl Hancock said...

Hello Bart, I agree with you. But I must ask, given the current global economic "crisis" how is business going for Class Adventure Travel? Is it down? Holding steady? Growing?

I ask as someone who is interested in working in the adventure travel industry and is looking for some insight into the current economic conditions of the industry.



Alice Thomson said...

Nice photography. Really amazing....... These images of valleys are wonderful. I am impressed. I love this article. Travel photography is very important for most sold destinations. These destinations are unforgettable. Photography is the language of light. Great tips of travel experience!!!