In the last column we talked about the options for agencies that were thinking of closing up because of all the costs and administrative work involved in owning and operating an agency.
We explored the option of accessing agency services from a host agency which would take care of that side of the business, leaving you free to concentrate on selling travel.
A further 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 cruise product 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 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.
Some agents are expert at building an FIT itinerary for clients, finding the best prices and components for a customized tour or trip.
Others specialize in a country or region – Ireland, or Costa Rica, or Italy, for example. And groups, especially wedding groups, are another specialty.
Clients will seek out an agent who can best guide them in planning an exotic trip. The farther away it 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 and culinary, expedition travel … the list goes on and on.
Becoming an SME has proven to be the right strategy for many agents and it might be right for you.