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Wed 6 Feb 2008 03:25 PM

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The early bird catches the worm

Why booking holidays well in advance pays dividends for agents and consumers alike.

It might be a bit chilly in the Middle East right now, but give it a few months and we'll be flocking north, south, east and west to cooler climes as the searing summer heat kicks in.

But many of us will leave it right until the last minute to buy that plane ticket out of here - even though we know well in advance that we'll be leaving for some respite.

This late booking syndrome is endemic in the Middle East, and has been for some years, and every summer travel agencies and tour operators moan and groan as late bookings have them working around the clock to keep pace with bookings find aircraft and hotels with spare capacity.

So why then does the travel trade not do something to rectify this situation?

Firstly, consumers need to be made aware that if they leave booking their holiday right until the last minute, they are unlikely to be granted their first choice of destination, airline or hotel.

The danger of not raising awareness of the late booking downside is that instead of blaming the airline and the hotel, they will blame you for not being able to sell them their dream holiday. At worst, this could lose you a customer.

Secondly, the trade needs to start offering early booking incentives and marketing them aggressively, particularly to the main offenders!

Added value like free travel insurance, car rental, or buy six nights get one free are all examples of incentives that could be used to encourage clients to book early. Or even better, early bird discounts.

If customers take the bait, this alleviates the pressure on your people and your systems and what's more, it boosts cash flow.

It will also free-up more time during the summer to deal with last-minute requests.

The travel trade needs to stop being reactive and start manipulating the market to its advantage.

And there's no time like the present to be proactive. Tour operators are currently putting the finishing touches to their brochures and would do well to launch their programmes in conjunction with a hard-hitting early booking campaign.

And don't forget, this year Ramadan starts on September 1, so while many Arab nationals will be returning to the region during this holy period, ex-pats might choose to extend their vacations from August into September, particularly as schools have altered their holiday timings.

Thinking ahead and harnessing such opportunities will ultimately boost the bottom line.

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