Lisa McCarl was an open-heart recovery nurse. Travel was merely a hobby for her at the dawn of the new millennium in the year 2000. But now with 20 years under her belt as a travel agent, she has a unique travel niche that combines her former vocation with her avocation: selling plant-based travel and groups.
If you’re wondering exactly what plant-based travel is, listen up as Travel Market Report sat down with McCarl - a legacy agent with InteleTravel, based in Millersville, Maryland - to learn more about her unusual and lucrative specialty.
Travel Market Report: What is your travel specialty/niche?
Lisa McCarl: Sixty percent of my business is plant-based group cruises. I also sell group travel to book clubs, neighborhood groups, and multi-gen groups.
TMR: How long has this been your specialty?
LM: I started organizing plant-based group travel five years ago.
TMR: Why did you decide to sell this niche? How did it come about?
LM: My husband had a life-threatening health condition, and a doctor recommended that we change to a whole-food, plant-based diet.
We are both health professionals, and we started attending educational conferences to learn about the science behind preventing and reversing disease with food. The plant-based meals at the National Health Association (NHA) conference were fabulous. The NHA Executive Director Wanda Huberman worked with the hotel chefs for months to teach them techniques to prepare successful plant-based meals. I asked if she would partner with me to help cruise companies offer healthy plant-based meals. We now have a wonderful partnership and friendship.
TMR: Why do you think selling this niche has been so profitable for you?
LM: There is a huge demand for healthy travel options. The plant-based movement is growing exponentially, with a 54% increase in plant-based food sales during the last three years. Cruise companies are searching for ways to increase sustainability, and plant-based foods significantly reduce our environmental footprint.
Our food choices and lifestyle also play a major role in sickness. According to the World Health Organization, 80% of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, and 40% of cancer, can be prevented primarily with improvements to diet and lifestyle. So, more people are changing the way they eat to prevent and reverse diet-related disease.
My plant-based groups have such strong sales that cruise companies contact me to recruit my groups.
TMR: How do you market your niche?
LM: NHA is a non-profit organization, and membership has grown exponentially over the last five years. When they sent an email to members in 2018, offering a 2019 Avalon plant-based group river cruise, the response was overwhelming - and our group sold out in three days.
In January 2021, the NHA executive director asked me to arrange a plant-based group for a 2022 Alaska cruise. I thought it might be too early, but our Windstar group sold out in a week. Sales were so brisk that the Windstar team has committed a huge effort and resources to our plant-based groups. Windstar is co-branding their wellness foods with the NHA logo, and they are doing a phenomenal job with our groups.
We have also booked the 96-person National Geographic Endeavor II for a plant-based Lindblad Expeditions Galapagos Voyage in February 2023. Our group almost sold out after sending an email invitation and posting on social media. And we placed an ad in VegNews magazine to evaluate the response from advertising in print media.
TMR: Tell me one of your secrets to success.
LM: Eating differently is a challenge. As a result, there is a huge community of support on social media. There are outstanding plant-based lifestyle coaches with 40,000-150,000 subscribers who are excited to promote healthy travel options. They photograph buffets and record cooking demonstrations with chefs while onboard, and publish them on social media. For instance, this video was recorded on the Alaska Cruise and very quickly got over 1,000 views. This video was also recorded on the Alaska cruise, and within four days, had 1,500 views.
TMR: What’s your best piece of advice for other travel advisors?
LM: It’s great to follow a passion. It makes working easy. I would say to start with building relationships with clients and members of the industry that you want to focus on. Also, I think hard work goes a long way - and it’s so important to stay organized. And education is fundamental. That’s something InteleTravel has really helped us with.
At TMR, we’d like to sum it all up by saying, who would’ve thought that a travel advisor could create such a micro travel niche as plant-based travel that could be so rewarding, both personally and financially. It just goes to show that when you follow your heart and combine it with sound business strategies, the sky is the limit. Makes you wonder how you could turn your personal passion into a profitable travel niche, doesn’t it? Food for thought as the new year is about to begin.