Spotlight on Travel Niches

TravelAge West staff 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 packages. Like thousands of other agents, Fameli has embraced specialization to find a competitive nic

By: TravelAge West staff

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 packages.

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 keynote speaker.

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 hotels.

Fetsch said the Specialty Travel Index, www.specialtytravel.com, offers hundreds of potential options.

Target Range

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 two days.

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 campaign.

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.

Agent Specialties

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 cruising.

“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 music.

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.

Luxe Living

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.”

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