The reading level for this article is Expert
Steep discounts are never a good substitute for quality service, and the fly fishing travel industry needs to be reminded of this. For the most part, fly fishing travel is a high-end, customer service driven business. Lodge owners and outfitters are more apt to keep themselves and their customers happy if they encourage consumers to focus on quality and service rather than price.
For 11 years, I’ve owned a fly fishing and hunting outfitting business in Argentina. We’ve survived the crash of the travel industry after 9/11, Argentina’s economic and political crises and now this recession. The trend I’m currently seeing in both the fishing and hunting travel markets is not just price sensitivity amongst buyers, but an increase in consumers buying on price alone. This is feed in large part by outfitters and guides offering steeply reduced rates. While doing so could break a drought for a subpar service, middle and high-end operations should know better.
During an economic down turn, discounts or lowered rates are common and often sensible. When a high occurrence of dramatic price cuts are found, say 40- 60%, it can set a lasting precedent where travelers expect major savings with every outfitter they approach. The adverse effects of big discounts can spread virally within a particular region such as North Andros, Bahamas or Patagonia, Argentina and then on to outfitters/lodges worldwide. If outfitters continually cave under pressure, customers learn to buy only at the discount level, leaving operators to reevaluate their business.
Traditionally, customers never expected a deal and wanted to know what we could do for them first and then the price second. Since early December, I’ve noticed that new customers will often lead their inquiry by asking for our rates. I’ve also been surprised when several potential clients asked point blank for a discount. While these phenomenons are new and not independent of the recession, it points to big promotions widely publicized by lodges and outfitters when fly fishing Argentina. When customers are encouraged to choose price over quality, the lowest rate is usually found with a subpar outfitter or lodge; one whom the customer would not normally choose for such an important investment as an international fishing trip. If the subpar outfitter is able to retain the client, then kudos to them, but more than likely the result is a less than satisfied client who hopefully does not have a tarnished view of the region he visited.
Steep discounts can also anger customers who bought a trip at full price in April only to see it advertised for half price in May. This happened to me recently when I sold a gentleman a fishing trip at a premium lodge in Tierra del Fuego. Shortly after his return, the lodge had drastically reduced its rates. He called me to express his disappointment with lodge and thought they were shooting themselves in the foot.
While steep discounts may offer short term pay offs for a lodge/outfitter, these desperate measures can also damage a brand image, decreasing brand loyalty and long term buyers. For higher-end lodges and quality outfitters, this is a heavy price to pay for filling a vacancy at half price.
In my company, we sweat and bleed for any customer. But for those that paid full price, we go the extra mile for them. This past year we supplied 2 groups of anglers with free flies for the week and another group with free use of rods and waders for a week, amounting to a per person value of $150 and $300 respectively. They paid full price and never asked for favors, but we recognized that our offerings were going to make their travel and planning much easier. Over the years, two things have been consistent, these types of favors for good customers have been an easy decision, and it’s these customers who give us the pleasure of hosting them again and again.