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Cruisescholar.com

Confessions from the Cruise Scholar

Chapter 8

WHAT IS ALL THIS TALK ABOUT BEING A NICHE TRAVEL AGENT? 

HOW CAN I CASH IN OR IS IT JUST A WASTE OF TIME

The start of any new year brings us renewed enthusiasm and with that energizes us to a point where we want to do our jobs better, add more profits and develop new facets to our careers.  I have been at it for 35 years and I am no exception, maybe with the exception I have thought about it 35 more times than many of you! 

Veteran professionals and those newer to the industry join together in a quest:  we are constantly looking for the end of the rainbow, coming up with something new and wonderful to market in the travel World.  We keep looking, asking, and trying.  Like Glinda the Good Witch said, “You've always had the power to go back to Kansas.”  The obvious is generally right under our noses.  Over the years I have learned (the hard way) that money is the worst motivator to do something, especially if you have no passion or any true interest in it (except for the potential payday). 

Many of you have posted on the Travel Professional Community site that you are interested in niche travel but don’t know how to start or really what it is.   There is really no textbook answer to that question because it is inside of you.  It has to do with so many personal factors:  your location, your personal travel experience, your lifestyle and most important, your hobbies or interests.  If you are interested in classical music (my passion) then why wouldn’t other people be interested in the same thing?  People love to hang out with others that have similar interests and also love to travel.  These days via the net, it is so much easier to find others that share your passions.  Also a very good thing is that special interest travel is almost impossible to comparison price shop.  What you are offering is so unique that you will not have to deal with this all that much.

Our biggest problem is to identify these passions and figure out a way to realize them into a marketable niche travel product.  It takes some planning.  Set aside some time to research and see what you can find.  Make good notes so you can organize a plan of action.  It might take quite a bit of time but it is worth it.  Learn to network with people with your same interests and amazingly enough you will come up with some great new ideas for your travel business.

It is not necessary to re-invent the wheel because there are travel vendors out there that share your interests that would love to hear from you.  They can help you develop your ideas. They have done most of the hard work already.  Remember people like to help others that are interested in the same things.

How can I take personal inventory to discover what type of niche travel I would want to buy myself? If your interests are in destinations, the first stop would be the visitors and convention bureaus of those regions or the government sponsored tourism office for almost any country in the World. One of my favorites is the Greek National Tourist Organization (http://www.visitgreece.gr/).  From there you can get some great ideas: weddings, food, culture and family history.

Magazines are published about everything under the sun.  This is a good place to look for people that are like minded.  You could write some material for the magazine in trade for publicizing a travel idea you are promoting.  Since printed magazines seem to be starting to go the way of the dinosaur, on line magazines and blogs for special interest groups are out there too.  Google your interest and it is all there for you to discover. 

Here is a small list of ideas that I could very possibly develop travel around based upon some of my own personal interests:  Wine, French food, smooth jazz and new age music, opera, yoga, Greece, Hawaii, Belize, New Orleans, train travel, Mel Brooks, and living with type-2 diabetes.  It is all over the block!

Adding a niche to your business plan doesn’t mean that you have to abandon the business plan you are currently following.  Make sure that it is profitable and fulfilling.

You may also find that going for a niche will not only gain a new type of business in your portfolio but increase business in what you are now doing. Adding special interest travel to your expertise does not have to cost a lot of money but it does cost your time.  If you truly love the niche then you probably won’t care as you are doing something you love.  Remember this is your motivation!  As you progress you will find that the money will come.

I have been seeing reports that people who are buying leisure vacations are returning to traditional travel professionals for personal recommendations and advice.  Many people feel that vacations are just way too valuable to depend solely on an airline website for guidance.  You can offer new reasons to travel and have fun at your passion at the same time.

The baby boomer generation is a simple and plentiful idea for a niche.

Let’s look at trends in niche group travel. As more and more Baby Boomers near and reach retirement age, they are shifting the overall travel industry as well as girlfriend getaways and guys-only trips will continue to grow in popularity and will continue to represent a great opportunity for leisure group travel bookings. 

Baby Boomers will continue to be a substantial segment of travel consumers for several decades.

Boomers are highly likely to travel with children under the age of 18. Why is this important? These travelers are likely to want adjacent rooms, multi-room suites, and other conveniences appropriate to families. Multi-family vacations are becoming increasingly popular, which multiplies the number of people in a single booking that have special requests.  On the older end of the Baby Boomer spectrum, travelers are opting more and more for spa and luxury travel options.

One valuable way to speak to this group is by offering your clients more amenities and services that satisfy the desire to be pampered on vacation.  It is not good enough just to casually mention these benefits but really hit home with them as an advantage to working with you.  These are the benefits the Boomers want and can afford to pay for.

Friends getaways trips encompass travelers from their mid-30s on up through the young Baby Boomer segments. This is important to realize when you consider the ways to reach these consumers; there definitely is no one size fits all option.

This is a simple start in niche marketing and we will talk more about it in other chapters. I think you can see that niche travel marketing is what makes committed travel professionals extremely successful and that sure is not a waste of your time.

We are always trying to find a way to reinvent our business, to make it more successful and to give it a brand identity, which in today’s business environment is probably the most important thing.

Developing a niche in your travel company is a great way to stand out from the crowd.  It is time to take advantage of the latest trends and do something that many others are not offering.  It is even better if it is a subject that you are fanatic about, that way it isn’t like work but more like a hobby and a passion.  Think hard about what you love and take it from there.  Be it a specific destination (I love Hawaii and the Greek Islands), a theme like weddings or Disney, marketing to specific interests like baseball card collectors or those interested in historic things, finding your niche can make your job more fun and could turn it into a tremendous success.

On the subject of trending niche travel ideas you may want to consider well-being and wellness travel.  After all there are only 76.4 million baby boomers in this country and most of them are either entering or in the midst of their 60s.  Hotels and resorts started getting in on this new interest about 2 years ago when they added jogging trails, enhanced workout rooms, sleep programs and nutrition programs like gluten free and vegan menus. 

Some have gone over the top with vitamin C infused showers, special wake up lighting in the rooms and aroma therapy.  Why not take advantage of this by becoming the go to person in healthy travel. 

A good place to start would be The Travel Institute’s Well Being Travel on line program that will start you on your way to this extremely timely travel niche. Check out their website at thetravelinstitue.com and go to the catalog that covers their niche market specialist program. Travel Institute says, “According to a recent study, health and wellness travel accounts for $106 billion in travel sales. The Well-Being Travel Specialist course will show you how to boost your profits by capitalizing on this emerging niche market.”

To get you started, here are some ideas to get your expertise across once you have learned the products and services now available from spas, resorts, cruise ships, spiritual centers and even hotel chains.

One of the best ways to get involved in health related travel is to get into it as well.  You can start with using what you have learned in the seminar and shift to a healthier lifestyle at home.  You can mention your new healthy habits in your conversations with clients about your new lifestyle and how it has improved your daily life. This will open up the conversation about your new niche.  Most of you prefer to customize your all-inclusive programs for your clients and you can do the same here.  This is a perfect time to find out what your clients would be interested in from hiking trails to a customized workout and nutrition program. 

Since your potential well-being traveler is concerned about his own personal needs then it is important that you think out of the box.  Think in terms of destinations that may not have been traveled to death like Costa Rica or Cancun.  Eastern Europe, Malaysia, The Hawaiian Islands and some of the other Caribbean Islands have excellent accommodations for wellness and health travelers.

It is more important than ever to learn as much as you can about the new brands out there and to keep up with new destinations and programs that are being offered.  Many of the official travel bureaus of the destinations mentioned have information on their website about wellness travel. 

In 2012, 1.6 million Americans traveled abroad for medical services, primarily surgery.  Like my Grandma always said, “Arithmetic…..not an opinion!”  Major surgery in Malaysia costs less than 10% of what is charged in hospitals in the United States.  That is a big deal if you don’t have excellent health insurance.  Now wait, before you say it, doctors in foreign countries are just as educated and up to date with the latest procedures and equipment as those in the US.  Many went to school in the US, the UK and Australia and are accredited by international organizations. 

This niche may take some time and energy to develop but the potential is endless.

It is critical that you position yourself and your company on line since the likelihood of people interested in your niche will be all over the country and maybe all over the World.  Maybe a good exception is if you live in a wine producing area.

Here are some more ideas to give you a chance to think about what your niche could be:

Adventure and outdoor experiences-statistics show that over 98 million people have chosen some sort of adventure type travel for their time away from home.  It could take the form of snorkeling or scuba diving in the blue hole of Belize or on the Mexican Riviera, rock climbing or sky diving in Hawaii and flying in a jet fighter at the speed of sound.  It can also take the form of soft adventure with a G Adventures tour or a bicycling adventure in the South of France.  If you set yourself to offer adventure travel and advertise it correctly then you will have a niche that you can be profitable with and having a ton of fun.

Women Only Travel-the statistics here tell us that mature women outnumber men by a ratio of 100 to 81 (55-64); 100 to 82 (65-74); 100 to 69 (75-84); and 100 to 49 (85+). Female travelers will be one of the driving forces behind senior traveling in the long term plus 85% of women influence travel whether they are traveling with a family member, alone or with other women.  You have heard of girlfriend getaways to spas, cruises, luxury resorts, and shopping sprees.  Why not cash in on this very hot niche and become a women’s travel expert.

Man-cations—guys are traveling with their buds too generally hitting sporting events, golf courses and fishing trips.  You can combine your expertise in adventure and outdoor experience and market it to the guys.

Grandparents’ family reunion travel-so many of the retired baby boomers are grandparents and love the idea of taking family members on a memorable vacation.  I always see T-shirts worn by family members on cruise ships advertising their reunion cruise with the grandma and grandpa.  If they take the family to a resort or cruise ship the grandparents can enjoy the family on their own terms and not end up as babysitters like they might be at home.  Knowing the best ships and resorts and prequalifying the decision maker (which is the most important person in this transaction) will give you a kick start to this currently very popular type of travel.  This is also a niche that offers a good opportunity for referral business.

Disabled travelers-there are more and more opportunities to those that have challenges to enjoy travel Worldwide and you could be just the person to help them.  This again is a niche that needs to be well thought out and planned for so you know in your own mind some of the stumbling blocks this client might face.  Working out all of the logistics is what will make you an extremely important person in the traveler’s life.   The Society for Accessible Travel and Hospital (SATH) indicates that disabled travelers currently spend millions of dollars a year on travel. Those that need special services will be extremely happy to know that you are an expert in this field and can save them all kinds of heartache if the destination they want to go to is full of barriers and uneven streets.  Remember that some countries are better equipped for wheel chairs and specialized medical equipment than others so it is imperative that you know your stuff in this niche.

Travelers with Pets-Over 30 million people traveled with pets last year.  Some of the major hotel chains are embracing this latest trend by providing services for their human, canine and feline guests.  You will find that your luxury guests are more likely to want to bring Fido along on their next vacation and you will be there to give them advice and make the reservations for them.  Loews Hotels was the first national hotel brand to welcome pets with their "Loews Loves Pets" program. Loews even offers pets their own room service menu with recipes prepared from scratch. Many vacation resorts and hotels have added "pet-friendly" to their list of amenities because they realize animal lovers who travel with their pets usually have money to spend. Focusing on this particular trend has given them a distinctive edge over the competition that you can take advantage of.

So if you think you are in a rut in your business and want to branch out with something that will set you apart from the competition then maybe one of these niche ideas is for you.  Good luck and good selling.