I’ve discovered that I tend to pull for the generalist over the specialist. I gravitate to the Jack of all trades instead of the policy wonk. I’m all for casting a wide net. Unfortunately, this thinking is becoming outdated. Maybe there’s just too much information readily available, making us all experts at something, but as you’ll see in this issue’s cover story, “Targeting Your Niche Market” (/article.aspx?id=16232
), specialization is the method of choice for the highly successful travel agent.
Over the years, I’ve met some amazing agent specialists. Whether it’s the agent that books travel for all her city’s high school sports teams (and their families); or the agent that can tell you in detail about every scuba diving reef in the world; or the agent that takes surfers to the South Pacific in search of the perfect wave, the one thing all these agents have in common besides bringing in the big bucks is that they never stop educating themselves. If there’s something they need to know about their specialties, they seek it out.
Of course it helps that they happen to love what they do. The agent that enjoys diving or surfing, not surprisingly, makes an energetic advocate for that niche. It’s not enough, however, to match your passion with your profession. In today’s market, the fastest way to lose a client is to call yourself an expert and not have the education to back that up. Since nearly all clients come to an agent only after doing their own research online, travel agents simply must be prepared to prove themselves over and over again.
Because of this, I highly recommend that agents let suppliers and visitors bureaus know when they need further training. Also, contact The Travel Institute (www.thetravelinstitute.com), ASTA (www.astanet.com) and CLIA (www.cruising.org) and find out what educational programs they offer. If suppliers and organizations know that agents want further training, I believe they will step up and deliver. And clearly, in today’s retail environment, there’s plenty riding on it. K.S.