Airlines & Airports
Robin Amster | April 28, 2016 12:33 PM ET
Should You Specialize?
We’ve been hearing for years now that the road to a travel agents’ success is through specialization—determining one’s passion, developing it into a niche business that focuses on, say, a specific type of travel or destination, and targeting clients with those interests.
The strategy revolves around the old question “Is it better to know a little about a lot, or a lot about a little?”
Many, many agents have opted for the “know a lot about a little” scenario and there’s ample evidence that some have added a huge dose of creativity into the mix.
Take Boston, home-based agent Ellen Paderson who, over 10 years, has developed a thriving business arranging destination bar and bat mitzvahs. Her Bar Mitzvah Vacations web site was a natural outgrowth of her destination wedding business Smiles and Miles Travels, Destination Weddings and Honeymoons, which she still operates.
A “destination” bar/bat mitzvah isn’t really a brand new concept. There have always been families—though my guess is not all that many—who have at least held their bar mitzvah celebrations, if not the actual ceremony, away from home. I remember hearing about at least one such family—obviously a very wealthy one—that hosted a substantial number of family and friends on an Africa safari to celebrate their son’s bar mitzvah.
Paderson’s business though goes more than one step further. She arranges for the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony itself along with everything else: the venue, on land or aboard a cruise ship; transportation, lodging, etc.
One might think that destination bar/bat mitzvahs are indeed a narrow niche—maybe too narrow. But Paderson says she now gets six to 10 calls a day from prospective clients.
And aside from the potential for success in fulfilling in as yet unfulfilled gap in the market, there’s the fact that niches like destination bar/bat mitzvahs and destination weddings can be considered online booking-proof.
As Jennifer Doncsecz, president of Bethlehem, Pa.-based VIP Vacations and a longtime destination wedding pro notes, this is one area that is virtually impossible for clients to book online by themselves. There are far too many moving parts just as there are for bar/bat mitzvah destination events.
There is, however, another view on specializing.
Andi McClure-Mysza, president of MT Travel, the host division of Montrose Travel, said “I take a little different tack on specialization. I believe that one’s specialty doesn’t necessarily revolve around a product or destination.”
“If you look at how to go to market and build a strong business, the specialty is the knowledge the agent has about their customer base,” said McClure-Mysza. “My specialty is that I know more about my clients than anyone else. That’s critical in my ability to sell Hawaii this year, for example, and a cruise next year.”
“A lot of people are preaching you have to have a specialty,” she added. “But just because you like Hawaii doesn’t mean you have a great opportunity to sell Hawaii. If you live in Florida, for instance, it probably isn’t easy.”
Travel franchisor CruiseOne appears to be on the same wavelength. The company last fall launched the new brand Dream Vacations to send a clear message that its home-based agents sell far more than cruises. (Existing CruiseOne franchisees can either stick with that brand or move to the new one.)
So what’s the bottom line here; should agents develop a specialty or should they sell, if not everything, than many types of travel beyond a specific niche?
No surprise that the answer isn’t black and white.
Some niches may prove far too narrow while the sell-all-kinds of travel model—being all things to all people—is not a recipe for success in this day and age of complexity and special interests. Agents have to decide what’s best for them and what type of strategy promises success.
And one thing that is black and white is that the decision requires education, research, hard work—and creativity.
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