Audrey Fameli, owner of Real People Travel Co., sells a range of
travel from her Penngrove, Calif., office - but she has
particularly honed her expertise in all-inclusive vacation
Like thousands of other agents, Fameli has embraced
specialization to find a competitive niche in an increasingly
complex and rapidly changing travel industry.
“I like all-inclusive packages and I don’t want to be a
Travelocity,” she said, “I just want to have my little corner.”
The trend toward specialization drew Fameli and more than 800
agents and suppliers to Las Vegas earlier this month for TravelAge
West’s trade show, “Trek to Success: Finding Your Niche.”
From youth and luxury markets to niche cruises and honeymoons,
agents and experts outlined the increasingly imperative need to
find success by sharpening focus.
“All bets are off, everything is being redefined,” said Roger
Dow, senior vice president, global and field sales for Marriott
International. “It comes down to truly listening and understanding
what’s happening and finding your niche.” Dow was the conference’s
Cape Wineland Tours in Falls Church, Va., is among those that
have found a niche, selling specialized wine tours. Robin Fetsch,
the company’s vice president of operations, said that one of the
keys to success is having a passion for the product. “You choose a
niche because it’s something you enjoy as well as something you
know you can sell,” she said.
But agents who specialize also must be able to adapt quickly
when market conditions change.
Fetsch, who once focused on Middle Eastern tours, said she now
realizes that clients who have taken a wine tour of South Africa
aren’t likely to do the same trip again so new options are being
added, such as bicycling between wineries with overnights in luxury
Fetsch said the Specialty Travel Index, www.specialtytravel.com,
offers hundreds of potential options.
Another potential target market is youth travel, a segment that
both Contiki Holidays of Anaheim, Calif. and Royal Caribbean
International capitalize on. “Research shows that there are 15
million college students in the U.S., and they spend an estimated
$14.6 billion on travel,” said Lisa Wooldridge, Contiki’s director
of sales and marketing.
But while selling to 18- to 35-year-olds can be lucrative,
agents must understand how to reach younger clients where they
work, play and live.
Kathy Clark, 35, catering director at Walters Golf in Las Vegas,
may be representative of the younger market’s travel habits. Clark
said she works hard, but takes frequent weekend trips with friends,
often staying in high-end hotels and spending as much as $1,200 in
Clark said she usually books directly on the Internet, but would
use a travel agent for a complex trip or a cruise.
To find younger clients on the Internet, Lynda Burruss, general
manager of PNR Travel in Los Angeles, said her agency makes the
most of Web and e-mail tools offered by consortium partner LTG.
Wooldridge said her sales reps also sometimes organize social
events at apartment complexes where young professionals live to “go
to them because they won’t come to you.”
Royal Caribbean International has created a more contemporary
product for this market, offering active sports activities such as
rock-climbing walls onboard and using an upbeat advertising
Agents should look at the “lifetime value” of aiming for a
younger market, said Patrick Mitchell, Royal Caribbean’s associate
vice president for field sales. Those travelers may start with
budget trips to Mexico, but they’ll soon be buying honeymoons and
travel with expanding families.
Trade show attendee Carl Holm with Travel Hub Travel Agency in
San Leandro, Calif., also has used a personal touch to book a group
cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line.
Holm said he and his wife were personally interested in the
cruise, so they developed a brochure and sent it to about 50
clients on their holiday mailing list.
They got a nearly 50 percent response rate and had 20 bookings
so far. Holm said that selling what he loved has helped his
results, as well as follow-up calls.
Holm also tapped into what Lee Robinson, vice president of sales
for Cunard/ Seabourn, calls the wave of the future for
“On cruises today 35 percent to 40 percent of a ship is groups,”
said Robinson. Group cruises can be adapted to nearly any niche
from scuba, golf and photography to gardening, celebrity chefs and
Laura White, Southwest regional sales director for Silversea
Cruises, said cruise lines often offer co-op marketing and other
help to agents who want to create a niche cruise.
Another potentially lucrative and growing niche is luxury
travel, according to Joanie Ogg, president of the National
Association of Commissioned Travel Agents. Ogg said luxury travel
clients primarily are driven by perceived value rather than price;
are accustomed to paying for professional service, and are less
affected by economic downturns.
But even economic downturns can offer opportunities, said Nolan
Burris, president and chief executive of consulting firm
Visionistics Enterprises Inc. of Vancouver, B.C.
Burris cited the growing popularity of spas, the trend toward
travel closer to home and recreational-vehicle rentals as emerging
segments of the changing marketplace.
“There’s always going to be a new challenge facing the
industry,” Burris said. “And how you deal with it will decide how
successful you are in this business.”