Finding Your Niche: Steps to Establish a Travel Specialty

by Daniel McCarthy
Finding Your Niche: Steps to Establish a Travel Specialty

Lorraine Simpson addressed travel agents at Travel MarketPlace West in Vancouver. Photo by: Dan Galbraith

As consumers, we tend to not trust a restaurant that does everything — Italian, Chinese, Mexican, and Thai food all in one place — so why would travelers trust travel agents who market themselves as an all-in-one travel shop?

Speaking at Vancouver’s Travel MarketPlace conference last week, Lorraine Simpson, from Concierge Travel Group/Wine Club Concierge and Romance Concierge, implored agents to market themselves as a specialist in one area because, “We are preprogramed to think that if it’s got too much, we don’t trust it. “

Simpson, who specializes in honeymoon and destination weddings, started her career 12 years ago, when she became a widowed mother of three children, and decided to buy a home-based travel business.

After some time, between being a mother and working in her home’s basement, well away from any potential foot traffic, she realized it was time to make a change.

She started by going to local and national wedding shows, meeting tourism board contacts and telling them that she was interested in being a destination wedding planner and honeymoon specialist. Some let her operate from their booth free of charge.

“If the tourism board is able to stand there and speak to their clients, they’re going to tell you tons of information and you are going to take it all in … I did that and at the end of it the client said, ‘I want to book’ and I could say, 'Guess what? I’m a travel agent, and I can take that booking for you,'” she said. “It was a really great opportunity for me to do that.” 

Starting there, in her first year, she booked eight weddings; in her second year, she increased to 28 bookings. By her third year, Simpson booked 72 weddings and had established a specialty travel business that was profitable

“These days, a niche specialty is still very, very important — if not more important than it ever was,” Simpson said.

How to determine your niche
For agents looking to establish a niche, Simpson recommends asking themselves a series of questions:

1. What do you love?
What are your interests? Think about what you love to do, what gets you excited. And apply that to travel. Your natural enthusiasm will attract people who are interested in the same pursuits — and it will make you a credible expert

2. What is your passion?
“You’re buying into the passion. If you can harness the power of your particular passion … that is going to be the most saleable quality for you,” she said.

3. What skills do you have?
What can you do that sets you apart? “If you don’t have the skills to sell what you are selling, learn them. I didn’t know everything about destination weddings, I still don’t know everything about destination weddings. Learn it, do your research, and become the expert. Research is easy.”

“There are places that I’ve sold that I don’t know about and never visited.” I interview the person I am talking to and ask 'How do you see yourself at this destination wedding? How do you dream at night and what does it look like?' I don’t want to hear what you want to spend. It’s up to me as the realtor of travel for you to come to me and tell me this is what I want, this is what it looks like, and this is how I want it to feel.”

4. Who is in your network?
Who are your connections and their connections? “If you have high-end connections, then you should aim for that. If you are very good at photography, use your skills. Organize a photography cruise, perhaps, or a trip to Uganda to photograph the gorillas … do something that sets you apart.”

“I’m not saying you shouldn’t sell everything, but I’m saying what you promote should be very one-dimensional.” That will make you stand out and get the attention of potential clients

5. Who are your business connections?
“If you have corporate or business connections, you can use those” to build your travel niche.

“Who are your hobby pals? It is a huge market. For instance, there is a large ocean cruise that is totally filled with sewing enthusiasts. Don’t think that your niche is too small. If you can find the people, then honestly, you could fill a cruise ship.”

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