The following is the latest in a series by the founder of Talking Travel.
When our tour guide in Panama pointed out a Violaceous Trogon on a recent trip, his sheer delight at spotting the tropical bird was countered by our group’s absolute ignorance. That is, until he hauled out his tripod and spotting scope and let us see the purple and yellow bird up close.
Similarly, the first mention of a special interest or niche travel market – trout fishing? ballet? gem collecting? – may spark little interest in you as well. It might even intimidate you.
Don’t be intimidated. Be curious.
Once you find out how popular a certain niche or special interest is among your clientele, and how niche travel can generate new revenue for your agency, you will want to learn more about it.
Here are 9 ways to get into a niche travel market that you know nothing about.
1) Identify and list. Based on the detailed customer profile notes you’ve been keeping in your database, organize your clients into groups of interests. They may have several, for instance hiking, photography, wine, culinary and handicrafts. You may have to create more fields in your database so you can query the different interests and then compile your lists.
2) Pick and choose. Select the niches in your database that seem most popular. Add one or two that reflect your own interests, since spreading your enthusiasm for an activity may attract new customers or existing clients who have not yet articulated that particular interest. (Care to explore diners, drive-ins and dives anyone?)
3) Interview and learn more. Ask a few clients about their niche interest. How did they develop the interest and how do they fulfill it? Do they belong to any clubs or associations (e.g. a camera club, a military society)? Would a trip with others who share their interest be appealing? What price point would be satisfactory? Probe so you learn as much as possible.
4) Research and experience. Once you’ve established that a particular niche trip may be of interest, you need to experience it yourself. Bird watching may sound like a simple walk in the forest; in fact there’s more to it (silence, patience, luck, proper equipment, time of day, venue, etc.) Just one afternoon outing with a birding club will give you a better appreciation of what birders are looking for. You’ll also pick up their lingo, which lets you speak their language when you’re ready to sell your know-how. Your goal is not only to be able to talk the talk (“I know what antiquers want because I’ve spoken to many”) but to walk the walk (“I’ve enjoyed antiquing and I know what may be of interest to you.”)
5) Browse and chat. Use the Internet and social media to learn more. Simply searching “top 10 places in the world to . . .” will give you a wealth of information. If your new niche is spas, then find out the top spas and spa destinations, learn about the various treatments, both traditional and trendy. Get an idea of the benefits spas deliver. There are websites where you can chat with spa aficionados, share spa tips and ask if there’s interest in a spa lovers tour.
6) Create and co-opt. You may be in a position to create your own niche tour. Use the information you’ve gathered, then enlist the help of your clients who share this interest. If you have the interest of a club or society, then work closely with them to ensure that the final product suits their needs and allows them to comfortably sell the product to their members.
7) Customize and craft. Another option is to work with a supplier to customize an existing tour product. For instance, instead of that “day at leisure” on a set tour, you may be able to offer an optional niche activity. Or customize all or part of a dedicated niche tour. For instance, add more wineries and tastings to a scheduled culinary tour. This is where strong relationships with suppliers pay off.
8) Show and tell. Travelers absorb information visually, and bright in-focus photos will excite people’s imaginations far more effectively than brochure text. Collect photos to use as selling tools in your talks, presentations and online slide shows. You’ll also need to talk about a tour’s benefits and the value it will deliver for travelers.
9) Boast and post. Once you have a proven niche product, boast about it by posting it on your website and talking about it in social media feeds, your newsletter, customer mailings and community newsletters, as well as in person, on the phone and everywhere else. Don’t forget to include testimonials from the participants.
A simple comment by a client – “I wonder if I can add to my whiskey collection while in Ireland” – can be a hint that there is a market for travel by people with a shared interest.
The challenge is to get up to speed on the client’s niche interest. This could be an opportunity to generate new business and revenue while fulfilling dreams. After all, isn’t that what travel professionals specialize in doing?
Travel educator Steve Gillick delivers sales, marketing and destination training to travel professionals via his consultancy Talking Travel. He served as president and COO of the Canadian Institute of Travel Counsellors from 2001 to 2012. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.