We’ve all heard the saying “You can’t be all things to all people.” This is true for virtually every industry. Think about it. Dentists specialize (orthodontics, pediatrics, oral surgery, etc.). Doctors specialize (podiatrists, pediatricians, ER, neurology, obstetrics, etc.). Lawyers specialize (contract law, criminal law, probate lawyers, Class Action, etc.). And travel professionals should specialize too.
WHAT IS NICHE MARKETING?
Niche marketing is when you’ve targeted your specialty and honed your marketing to focus tightly on a specific market. It’s precision shooting, not a shotgun approach.
Niche marketing isn’t a new concept, but it’s difficult for some travel professionals to accept – especially those that are newer to the industry. In travel classes as well as at many travel industry seminars, I repeatedly hear how important it is to focus on a specialty. There’s even a whole association dedicated to niche cruising–the Niche Cruise Marketing Alliance.
In the travel industry, there is a wide variety of specialties and niches upon which we can focus including: corporate travel, honeymoons & destination weddings, gay & lesbian travel, singles, families, adventure travel, religious and faith-based travel, volun-tourism, eco-friendly travel, cruises, student groups, luxury, accessible travel… You get the idea.
Yet many travel professionals resist specializing, vehemently, possibly because they are not clear about WHY they should focus on a niche.
WHY NICHE MARKETING?
When you attempt to be everything to everyone, you don’t stand out. Niche marketing allows you to maximize your limited budget; getting the most bang for your buck. When you specialize, and market to that specialty, you are perceived as the expert. If potential clients view you as the expert, they are more inclined to seek your services over someone that isn’t a specialist.
When I started, I was like everyone else – I tried to be all things to all people (and every now and then, I do slip back into that mindset). Being new to the industry, I needed clients – and I needed money. Why would I purposely limit myself to just a small segment of travelers? Really, who in their right mind would turn away business? What I learned is that you don’t need to turn away any business. It’s about marketing to the right business segment for you.
I’d been in the travel business nearly three years when I picked up a book in the airport bookstore that intrigued me: “When Your Small Business is YOU” a marketing handbook by Jeanna Pool. Over the Christmas holidays (and three flights covering 5,500 miles) I devoured this book more than once. The chapter heading that really caught my attention: Find Your Niche and You’ll Get Rich. In a nutshell, it emphasized that focusing your marketing on a niche and becoming a specialist in that niche can increase profits and it doesn’t mean you have to turn away business that was outside of your niche.
When I got home after the Christmas holidays, I emailed the author and signed up for her 12-week marketing boot camp. I worked with her to identify my niche and develop my marketing. As I progressed through the training sessions, the reasons for specializing in a niche became more clear.
In this industry, people go places by land, water, or air. They could do it alone, with others who have a similar interest, or are of the same age. They might travel to entertain their family, to find their soul-mate, or to save the planet. Some people prefer to rough it, while others want to be pampered. In a nutshell, the travel market is really big – so there are plenty of niches to choose from.
HOW TO PICK A NICHE?
If you’ve been in the travel industry for awhile and have a decent client base – analyze your clients’ booking history and see if any patterns emerge. Do you book a lot of families to Walt Disney World? Or are the majority of your bookings from honeymooners? Or maybe you’ve noticed that you’re booking a lot of business meetings. More often than not several potential niches will emerge, and probably overlap. For example one client might be a honeymoon client (hopefully not more than once), a cruise enthusiast, and be an adventure traveler. After identifying possible niches within your past business, pick the one that you’re personally drawn to the most.
But what if you’re new to the industry and don’t have a booking history to analyze? Look for niches in the travel industry, and analyze your surrounding area. What niches are under served? Start by browsing through the local yellow pages. If there are six travel agencies in a 30 mile radius, are they all focused on the same thing? Are the needs of destination weddings, faith-based groups, or adventure travelers being met?
SO, NOW WHAT?
So you’re finally convinced that you need to focus on a niche. You’ve analyzed your business and decided on which niche you want to target first. (Remember you aren’t limited to one – just master one at a time). Now what do you do? Ideally you should work with a marketing specialist as I did with Jeanna Pool. Ultimately you need to develop a comprehensive marketing plan for your niche. But remember, all marketing is not equal. For example, if you’ve decided to focus on honeymoons, you might consider renting booth space at bridal shows and partnering with a local jewelry store, florist or a limousine company. If you’re going to focus on adventure travel, you might want to skip the bridal shows and instead target RV, camping, or other outdoor related shows. And instead of jewelry stores, you might want to work with the local Bass Pro Shop or REI store.
You also can’t assume that a direct mail campaign will be effective for every specialty. Some niches have a great deal of magazines that target their audience – just count the number of magazines just for hunters and other outdoorsmen the next time you’re in a bookstore. You really have to take the time to determine what would work best for your and for your target audience. And don’t be afraid to make adjustments as you test different strategies.
You may be asking what niche developed after my Christmas epiphany. After completing the marketing boot camp, I decided to focus on 18 to 23 year olds – primarily college students. For marketing, I use Facebook and MySpace. I also have a website dedicated to my target age group, an e-zine that includes a column written by a former client (a college student), and I speak on college campuses. In the first 6 months I nearly doubled my commission compared to the previous 12 months. Not bad for a relative newbie!
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Brentwood, Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvacations.com) she focuses on travel for 18 to 23 year olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 888-221-1209.