Way back in October of 2004, Chris Anderson published an article in Wired Magazine called “The Long Tail.” Anderson later elaborated the concept of the Long Tail in his book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. The theory is that while every industry has its blockbuster products, there is a “long tail” of product sold in much smaller quantities that, collectively, is often larger than the most popular items. Anderson went on to explain how technology, like online access to thousands of suppliers by millions of consumers, was making it possible for niche businesses to thrive in the new economy.
Does travel have a long tail? It does indeed. If you look at the cruise industry, for example, the mass market Caribbean cruises dominate the scene – these are the “blockbuster” inventory items of the travel marketplace. But behind that massive body of sales is the long tail of niche cruises – Antarctica, river cruising, eco-cruises, the Amazon, the Galapagos. Vast crowds travel every year to Las Vegas, Disney and Cancun. But a much larger combined crowd travels to Iceland, national parks, Tanzania and lesser known destinations seeking out new and different experiences.
Particularly in the Baby Boomer generation, there is tremendous opportunity in niche marketing. Travel professionals who adopt a niche can distinguish themselves so much more quickly than a generalist. That is not to say that a niche marketer cannot also be a generalist. But by taking on a niche market, by writing about it on your blog, by promoting it in your local community, by focusing some of your marketing efforts on your niche, you begin to stand out from the crowd. Search engines pick up on your site more as more significant to your niche, and you plant seeds in your marketplace that tell everyone of your specialty.
Travel agents with a specialization have distinct marketing advantages. First, it is easier to locate your market. Specialize in Celtic ancestry, golf, disabled travel, bird watching, biking or skiing, and the location of your target market becomes instantly visible. Your ability to reach out and touch the very clients you want to locate is greatly enhanced. Marketing becomes much less an expensive proposition when you don’t have to hunt for prospects in a random, shotgun fashion.
Just as important, however, is the ability to quickly gain an unprecedented degree of notice in a niche community. The very essence of a community is the ability of its membership to communicate within its own ranks. Do an excellent job of travel planning for one member, and watch others begin to take notice.
Being an expert in a particular destination or theme has unexpected competitive advantages as well. Establishing your expertise in a community actually creates a natural barrier to entry with regard to competitors. As other travel agents do their research, they will likely veer away from your niche if you are sufficiently well-established locally. Travel agents specializing in a niche also benefit from the Blue Ocean Strategy – you take your agency and your clients into less competitive waters.
As you begin to work on your 2017 business plans (and it isn’t too early to begin), give real consideration to the establishment of a niche component to your travel practice. You might just find that your new specialization wags the dog.