Don’t let the word “niche” scare you; choosing a focus for your travel agency can distinguish your business. Doctors, lawyers and professors specialize, so why not you? That being said, deciding on a niche or specialty that suits you and your agency isn’t without its complexities.
New agents who limit themselves by niching without having an existing book of business could instead hinder their chances of getting off the ground. If you’re deciding on whether to specialize or which forms of travel you should focus on, consider this list of pros and cons.
Pro: A niche could help your agency to stand out
With so many travel agencies to choose from, it’s vital to differentiate yourself and your business. Otherwise, you become one in a sea of many generic agencies lost to the unforgiving algorithms of the internet. You have to stand apart to stand out, and that is where a niche might come in. Whether it’s a broad niche like luxury, or something more specific, having a specialty gives you parameters; it’s something to advertise and gives clients a reason to purposely seek you out.
This is where word of mouth also factors in. If you’ve helped a client organize a particularly complex itinerary, they can not only recommend you to others for a similar service but are likely to trust you with any future trip. Conversely, a niche can help you whittle down your target demographic. Consider church or school groups. Of course, you will branch out to accommodate other clients as they arise, but it’s a comfort to know that every year you should at least be able to count on organizing that one big annual trip hosted by a high school or nonprofit.
Con: A niche shouldn’t limit your business; be an expert in your customer above all
There is nothing wrong with delving deeper into a few products or destinations to expand and/or focus your knowledge as a travel advisor. But it’s important to never lose sight of being an expert in your customer. Arguably, your loyal clients are your niche, and what they are looking for should be enough to sustain your business. When you know your customer and how to choose the right suppliers to work with to deliver what your customer needs and wants, you won’t ever run the risk of limiting yourself and your agency.
It is way more expensive to acquire a customer than to retain them. So, if you are a Tahiti expert, would you really turn away a Tahiti client who wants to go to Europe? A savvier investment of time and resources —especially as a new travel advisor starting out — is to immerse yourself in supplier choices, research, vetting and business operations. Those aspects of your business will remain relevant no matter the type of travel.
Pro: It’s easier to position yourself as an expert
Travel advisors are generally considered travel experts, but with a category as broad as “travel,” how much can you really master? You might find it handy to be a jack of all trades, but if you’re a master of none, it can hinder your ability to market yourself and your agency. Choosing a niche is not only a bit of a calling card for your agency but it can bolster you as an agent. If you’re able to claim yourself as an expert in something, whether it’s river cruising or soft adventure, your name might be more top of mind as a referral or recommendation.
There are also ample opportunities to become a certified expert across a portfolio of hotels or resorts. Sure, expertise also comes with experience, but taking a free online training course and earning status as a brand expert is one easy and straightforward way to improve your knowledge and gain client trust. No one really wants an advisor who is just “kind of” familiar with a resort or destination. If you’re going to pick a niche, try to be the best in the field. Like drinking wine? Expertise comes in all forms. Take some online courses and apply your vigor for vintages into a bespoke wine tourism business operated by an expert.
Con: Clients will see through you if you choose the wrong specialty
Is there such a thing as a wrong specialty? The truth is, only if you choose a niche that doesn’t speak to you, personally. Choosing a niche is not just a black-and-white business decision, it’s about identifying an area of knowledge that you feel strongly about. Think about the things that you enjoy or that stand out from your own personal vacations.
A specialty isn’t just about picking a topic like “destination weddings” out of a hat. If it’s a form of travel you aren’t versed in, it must at least be something you have a passion for. Ask yourself: What do I do in my own spare time? Clients want someone as excited about their plans as they are, and a lack of enthusiasm for your chosen travel niche will be more apparent than you think. Plus, who wants to spend all day every day planning a trip for someone that they are more or less indifferent about? If you love spending time in the water and already sell a lot of tropical destinations, why not specialize in diving trips?
Pro: Clients want customization and will seek out specialized advisors
The age of personalization is here. No one spending money on a big-ticket trip these days is going to trust their bucket list vacation with someone who doesn’t have specific knowledge or connections. A couple finally booking their dream safari might go as far as to seek out an agent who specializes in luxury safaris. While designing this type of trip might seem a bit more labor intensive at first, clients are also willing to pay more for personalization. Rather than reducing the range of your business, a niche can position you as someone who is the “go-to” person for one vacation type or destination.
Likewise, if you’ve grown your on-the-ground connections with tourism bureaus and local vendors, you can tout the special experiences that only you can offer in a destination. As an agent specializing in Italy, a home visit and pasta-making workshop with a real-life nonna can be the difference between a cookie-cutter tour of Italy offered by every other agency and a truly meaningful vacation memory. Your clients will find the difference in the details of a trip that you helped to plan. Much of those careful details come with the focus — and payoff — of a specialization.
Con: Don’t isolate existing clients with a niche that doesn’t fit your brand
If you’ve been in business for a little while, it’s important to consider your existing book of business before launching yourself into new specialty. That’s not to say you can’t grow and develop as a travel advisor but consider your client base and their present needs before landing on a niche that might be the polar opposite.
For example, if your client roster is primarily composed of young families looking to go to Disney, it might not make sense for you to begin specializing in complex, high-end trips for retired couples. No one is saying that you can’t do both, but a more natural specialty might be cruising, which is family friendly, appeals to multiple generations and you don’t even have to stop selling Disney —Disney Cruise Line has a fleet of five ships and counting. As the saying goes: “Work smarter, not harder.”
Pro: A specialty can make it easier to find the right host agency
Not every agent wants or needs to run their own agency. Especially if you are just starting out in the industry, you will want to make sure you join an existing agency that’s the right fit for both of you. Knowing what you might like to specialize in will help you find the right group of established agents who can support you on your travel advising journey.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. If you are leaning toward primarily selling ecotourism trips, an agency that also specializes in this type of travel will already have established connections with destinations, vendors and even professional organizations that can instantly boost your reputability and resources. While some highly specialized trips might appeal because of their price tag, you’ll be happier selling travel that you’re passionate about to your clients — in an environment of other travel professionals who are also invested in your interests and success.
Con: If you choose something too niche you could pigeonhole your business
Sure, a niche can help expand your business by giving you expertise. But if you take the term “niche” a bit too literally, you run the risk turning away potential customers and neglecting the ones you already have. Acquiring a client is a long and expensive process. If you’re not able to serve those customers in other areas, it will cost you time and money. Remember: While it can be important to narrow your efforts in some areas, make sure you’re not so laser focused on rare or specialized niches that you aren’t able to accommodate other forms of travel.
Be sure to do your homework on key demographics for you and your business before choosing your niche. Even if it ticks all the other boxes — something you’re passionate about that blends well with your existing business — a niche still might not work if there isn’t enough of a demand for it. For example, wellness travel is a popular travel category, but only booking yoga retreats might be too specific to sustain your business. Be sure you’re choosing something that not only has an existing market but one that might have room to grow and expand.