It’s no secret that some of the best travel advisors in Canada owe their success to the fact that they have chosen to specialize.
While it’s rare to find someone who sells only their specialty (after all, if your cruise client comes back asking for a safari, it’s hard to say no), most find enormous personal satisfaction in selling what they know and have an affinity for. They become more time-efficient and deal with a handful of trusted suppliers who in turn give them special attention.
Here are three of Vision’s success stories – and, I hope, tales of inspiration for you (and for more insight, check out Part 1 of this look at specialties, in the July 2022 edition of Sphere).
Natasha Rhodes, based in Calgary, says that like all advisors she struggled to sell any sort of travel during the pandemic. “And we had to accept whatever walked in the door.”
Yet as the bookings started to rebound, she realized how much she missed her specialty of wildlife and adventure travel, and is thrilled to be back in the saddle.
“I started in a mass market agency but when I went on my six-week honeymoon to the Galapagos and Peru I realized that was the direction I wanted to take. It is so rewarding and enriching to travel to these special places, it truly changes you and how you look at the world.”
Clearly this is her passion: in 2017 she was named winner of Virtuoso’s Most Innovative Advisor in the Active and Specialty Travel sector.
While finding clients are starting to travel again with “easy” destinations such as Hawaii or a river cruise, she says she’s confident that they will soon start to spread their wings to more adventurous travel. Pre-pandemic, 80% of her sales were in her specialty.
As well as fuelling her own passion, Natasha says she loves that she has built a great relationship with her suppliers, each handpicked for their service and ethical standards. Her average adventure booking is three weeks to two months in duration and carries a price tag of $20,000 to $60,000. And yet her marketing costs – a monthly newsletter, virtual events and webinars – are, as she puts it, minimal.
Another hugely successful Vision advisor is Ottawa-based Sheila Gallant-Halloran.
While she very much enjoyed her original niches of soft adventure and cruise, she noticed a growing interest in health and wellness.
“I have a lot of solo, older lady clients and this group is definitely interested in looking to ‘reclaim’ their lives post-pandemic. Healthy living and self-care are resonating with people more than ever.”
Clients rarely contact her to say “I’m interested in wellness travel!” but as Sheila says, it just bubbles up in the conversation. And “wellness” can mean anything from a half-day spa visit as part of a longer trip, to a vacation in a very health-focused resort such as BodyHoliday Saint Lucia.
For example, what started out as a large river cruise group focused on shopping and fashion evolved into one focusing on how to live your best life.
Wellness has been a focus in over 80 of Sheila’s ‘Travel Tuesdays’ Zoom calls with her clients. She has also conducted mentoring sessions – two for her Virtuoso colleagues and one for Virtuoso suppliers. Her willingness to share and educate are so impressive she that this year she won the 2022 Virtuoso Luminaries, Legends, and Leaders Award.
One Vision Travel advisor who came across his specialty almost unintentionally is Vancouver-based Robert Marcoux.
In 2019 Robert was having a conversation with a client who mentioned that a genealogy group she belonged to was celebrating its 50th anniversary and did he have any ideas for a group trip?
That group, with some delays and revisions thanks to COVID, is departing on a Holland America Alaskan cruise next month: 95 passengers from all across North America.
Next, he’s planning a genealogy-themed European river cruise. “There are hundreds, even thousands of people who are fascinated by genealogy and want to know more about their family history,” says Robert.
He says he has learned a lot about this niche…
1. Clients will come to you with an exact trip they want you to plan (e.g. they want to attend a genealogy conference in Ireland).
2. On a group trip they love to have a ‘pied piper’ – a guest speaker who is an expert in the field.
3. Once they know you, chances are they will trust you with all of their other travel arrangements. (Bonus!)
Adds Robert, who specialized for years in FIT and cruising, “I’m learning something new every day about this niche. One day I hope it will make up half my business.”