The theory of survival of the fittest is certainly alive and well in the travel industry. Agents – and agencies – need to find ways to differentiate themselves and add value to the transaction, or risk losing their clients. One survival tactic for travel agents is the trend towards specialization. Many agents and agencies have found this to be an excellent strategy to add value to the client.
Now that the internet has become so prevalent as a tool for consumers to price shop and look for flights, package holidays and hotels, travel agents have had to re-think their value.
One of the first areas of specialization to emerge was the cruise agent, or cruise agency. Agents who specialize in cruises stand to earn a good living if they build up a clientele of repeat cruisers and take the time to learn about all the cruise lines and ships so that they can provide knowledgeable advice to their clients that they cannot get from a website.
What kind of SME are you?
What we are really talking about here is known as the “Subject Matter Expert” or SME. SMEs might be a stand-alone, home based agent, or they might be one agent in a travel agency who has a vast knowledge of one destination or product line. Or, an entire agency may specialize in selling a certain type of travel.
Smart agents have become expert at building an FIT itinerary for clients, finding the best prices and components for a customized tour or trip. Learning to mark-up consolidator fares pays off. This is a great way to add value for your clients AND grow your revenue, as selling FIT components can be far more lucrative than package holidays.
Others specialize in a country or region – Ireland, or Costa Rica, or Italy, for example. And of course, groups, especially wedding groups, are another specialty. Destination weddings are a huge trend and some clever agents are riding this wave, offering many additional services to wedding groups.
It is also a fact that clients will seek out an agent who can best guide them in planning an exotic trip. The farther away the trip is and the more exotic or complex the itinerary, the more clients will look to an agent who specializes in that region. Southeast Asia, China, India, Africa, Australia and New Zealand are all areas of specialty. Very few clients are going to book that type of vacation online.
Then there are the areas of special interest such as educational tours, diving, skiing, wine & culinary, expedition travel…. the list goes on and on.
Become an SME has proven to be the right strategy for many agents and agencies…. and it might be right for you.