“Jack of all trades, master of none” – there is a reason why this figure of speech exists. Focusing on a niche isn’t just a good business strategy. It’s an integral part of setting your business up for success. In fact, industry experts say that the travel agents who are busy scrambling to do everything, fearing they’re missing out on a huge opportunity, are the ones that burn out the fastest.
So, who gives a niche? You should. Once you fully commit to a destination or travel type, you will attract the right clients, and business will start knocking on your door. Here is some advice on how to begin the process, from agents who have been there and done that – with great results.
Start with the basics
By definition, a niche is a specialized segment of the market for a particular kind of product or service. Odds are you already knew that, but in case there was any confusion, we’ve got that covered out of the gate.
Some of the more common niches that travel agents have seen success with include general ones like cruising and family travel or more specific areas like safaris, Disney and river cruising. And then, there are those agents who really zone in on their niche, as is the case with those who create itineraries around heritage results from Ancestry.com or DNA home test kits. In fact, if you can believe it, one agent we spoke to even focuses on retreats for cat lovers.
Whatever niche you select, it’s important to remember that the process should be anything but random. And most of all, realize that focusing on a niche has its rewards, according to the agency community.
“When you cast a wide net and don’t have a specific focus, it’s hard to have any true expertise or experience in what you are trying to sell,” confirmed Kristen Buckshire, a family travel specialist and owner of Travel Ease LLC. “This industry becomes more competitive every day, with clients shopping multiple agencies for quotes or turning to big box travel providers like Costco. I think where we can really set ourselves apart is by being that subject matter expert, so that when we receive an initial inquiry from a client, we are prepared to educate them and have them walk away learning something new from that very first interaction. When a client immediately understands that you have knowledge that will enhance their trip beyond what they know, they start to see the true value in working with a travel consultant.”
The upside of focusing
When selecting a niche, the process should be anything but arbitrary. Let’s start with what to avoid. Skip the niche that is fairly uncommon or not in demand. Also remember that just because you are specializing in a niche, that doesn’t mean it has to be just one. While you don’t want to be all things to all people, having niches in a handful of areas is perfectly doable.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice is to not select a niche that you don’t know anything about – unless of course, you plan on focusing your education and experience in learning as much about it as possible, according to Kristi Emo, owner and travel consultant for Your Dream Escapes, who specializes in the South Pacific, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Most of all, pick something that makes you stand out in the crowd and from online competition. Emo says her niches complement each other, and that is not by accident. For example, she focuses on Tahiti, but also on honeymoons as well as destination weddings and groups, plus Mexico. “I chose Tahiti because it is hard for people to shop online with all the components that go into an itinerary to the islands of Tahiti and French Polynesia. So, that ensures that clients seek out help since they can’t find it easily with OTAs. Clients really like that I have been to these destinations personally and can help them select the right islands and resorts for their special vacation or honeymoon.”
For Amy Rosenfield, owner of Adventures by Amy, who doubled her sales after just one year as an agent focusing on a niche, the transition from a career in direct sales with a market dominated by women to a travel niche in destination weddings and honeymoons was an ideal progression. “I did in-home parties for women for more than 12 years. Therefore, it was only natural for me to land in a niche that catered to women, and that’s when I decided to do destination weddings and honeymoons.”
Passion is instrumental
Someone once said, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” This mantra should be a driving factor behind choosing which niche to specialize in. Rosenfield asked: “‘What gets you excited and makes you jump out of bed in the morning?’ If you hear the word Europe and your whole body tenses up at the thought of having to piece together a trip there, it’s probably not the best choice of niche for you.”
Rosenfield added that while some agents she knows have chosen their specialty based on which travel products bring in the most money, she disagrees with that approach. “I don’t think it works for most. I would tend to say that most agents that run their travel business full-time left a career that they were not too thrilled with. So, even though that particular niche may pay more than others, if it feels like a chore, you might just burn out quickly when you find yourself in another career choice you’re not enjoying.”
As another agent put it, “Knowing yourself and your personality is key to picking the right niche – going against that grain never works.”
A clearer marketing focus
Research is a critical element to determining if you’re on the right path. Are you sure there’s an audience for tall people who love traveling with their dogs? And if there is, make sure it’s not oversaturated, or you’ll never make headway. And don’t forget that whatever niche you do choose, you need to be well-versed in the language or interests that surround that market. For example, if you’re focusing on luxury, you need to “talk the talk and walk the walk” if you want to attract the right clientele.
Once you’ve tapered your target audience, it will be easier to market to them. And in turn, it will be easier for them to find you. Without a niche, it’s like taking a shot in the dark. “Niches allow you to have a more narrow approach to marketing and growth strategy. You can focus on avenues of marketing that support your niche, saving you time and money,” said Buckshire.
Knowledge = Loyalty = Referrals
Repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals are the rewards of expertise. Your clients will appreciate someone who can tell them which restaurants are “a must” and what is the shortest route from their hotel to the beach. They will trust and value you if you are a true specialist in your niche. Think about it. You wouldn’t let a dentist operate on your heart, would you?
Shari Kavalin, owner and chief experience officer of Elegant Escapes Travel in Lighthouse Point, Florida, is one agent whose story attests to the benefits of catering to a niche. Kavalin came to the travel industry 11 years ago, after a longtime career in mortgage banking went bust and what she had left was a lifetime of travel and a passion for people.
“As a longtime business owner, I understood the need to set yourself apart, and in some ways, make yourself ‘unshoppable.’ I think when you have a distinct focus or niche, it also helps clients more easily identify you and makes it easier for them to refer you to others – a formula that was the lifeblood of both my past and present career. It also makes it easier for you to conduct business on a daily basis if you are not trying to run all over the place becoming a specialist in ‘everything.’”
After a very introspective process and some trial-and-error, Kavalin learned that her specialization boiled down to personalization. Today, she is a self-proclaimed “Bucket List Travel Advisor” who as she puts it, “specializes in you.” Kavalin came to this niche determination when she realized all of her clients were filling a need – some were looking to make lifetime memories with their kids or celebrate a landmark occasion, while others wanted to get back to their genealogical roots. “Sometimes it was the destination, and other times simply the ‘what’ determined the ‘where.’” Being a bucket list travel advisor means Kavalin must know her clients inside and out, their likes and dislikes, their families, their past travels and future plans, and even, she said, their pets.
Bottom line: If you have a niche that makes you look like an expert, then odds are you will have very satisfied customers.
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