We’ve all read the headlines in travel media publications about how “specialization” is the key to thriving in the travel ecosystem. From the step-by-step guides to “finding your niche”, to the personal success stories from agents who have made the shift from generalists to specialists, the argument in favor of specialization is very persuasive. For travel agents to stay competitive, they have to maintain their reputations as travel experts.
Yet, maintaining the status of “expert” is becoming more and more challenging with each new consumer travel app and travel platform giving consumers access to their sophisticated algorithms and databases at their fingertips. Thus, specialization seems like an obvious solution. If an agent narrows his/her focus to Italy, for example, the task of becoming an expert on all things Italian becomes much more doable.
While there is no question that specialization has worked for many travel agencies, my post today will examine some of the rarely-discussed challenges to specialization and will offer some solutions.
Problems with Specialization
1). Losing repeat customers. There are only so many trips to Italy that a person will make in a year, or throughout their travel lifetime. If you specialize in trips to the Galapagos, or in honeymoons, that number is even smaller.
2). Getting stuck in a never-ending search for new clients
3). Missing out on the joys of building relationships with customers. As travel agents know, the longer the relationship with a client, the more personalized and specialized the experience is that they can provide their client.
4). Turning down trip requests because they are outside of your “niche”. Let’s face it, if a client who just returned from a trip of a lifetime to Venice, Italy comes home and asks you to book them a similarly thrilling $10,000 trip to Barcelona next summer, who are you to turn that down?!
Solutions to the Challenges
1). Find a tour operator or local expert (DMC) to handle any requests from clients that are outside of your expertise. This is already being done. The issue with this solution is that you can’t offer your client your recommendations at the destination from your first-hand experience. Because this is often the primary reason people are using travel agents today, this still presents a problem.
2). Develop a network of other travel agents to partner with whose expertise extends your reach. To build your network we suggest attending conferences, fam trips, and other travel agent networking events in and around your area. At these events, make it your mission to connect with other agents that cover areas outside of your specialty.
3). Discuss ways that you can work together to create the best possible experiences for your clients.
4). Suggest that you will help them if their client wants to travel to the area(s) of your expertise and vice versa. You can then discuss how you will split the commissions so that it is fair for both parties.
Clearly, there are real benefits to specialization and real challenges. I’d love to hear from others about some of the challenges and/or solutions with specialization. Email me at: Alex@planiteasy.com