In marketing seminars, webinars, etc., we consistently hear one piece of advice: specialize, focus on a niche. Many times the problem is that no one takes the extra step of helping us to define what a niche is exactly. A lot of travel consultants say they specialize in cruising, but that is really no more specific than saying you specialize in hotels. What kind of hotels? Budget hotels? All-inclusive hotels? Adult only? Family Friendly? High End? Luxury? Hotels in a certain destination? Hotels that belong to a certain brand (like the Hilton Family of Brands)? Pet friendly hotels? You get the picture.
The same applies to cruising. Simply saying that you specialize in cruising is too wide open, and not a niche or specialty at all. Between blue water (ocean) cruises and river cruises, there are literally dozens of cruise companies and hundreds of ships out there, visiting all seven continents and every conceivable waterway. You cannot be an expert on every possible itinerary, destination, cruise line, and ship.
However, you can specialize in cruising, and here are some tips on how to do it.
Identify Your Passion
First, decide where your passion lies. Are you a Disney fanatic yourself? If so, being the Disney cruise expert might be a perfect fit for you. Or are you fluent in German and you’ve visited Germany several times in your life? Then a focus specifically on European river cruises (or more specifically, river cruises in Germany) might be the right niche for you. What is important is to identify what makes your eyes sparkle when discussing it; what types of cruise travel gets your heart pumping. Clients can quickly tell when you are passionate and excited about what you do, and then in turn get excited about their upcoming cruise when they work with you. And if Disney makes your skin crawl, guess what, clients will pick up on that as well.
Identify Your Supplier(s)
Once you have identified your passion, start looking at the supplier options that fit it best. You will want to identify your preferred suppliers for your niche. Yes, you can book every supplier available, but it would benefit your business to focus your business on one or two suppliers. For example, if you decide that you want to focus on Alaskan cruises, there are at least 8 major cruise lines that do Alaskan itineraries, not to mention the smaller cruise lines. Pick one, maybe two; by focusing your business with a single supplier, you’ll increase your revenue with them, which in turn will increase your commission level based on your productivity. If you book a million dollars in revenue with one supplier they will take notice, and your commission level with them will likely increase. But if you spread that million dollars in revenue across ten different suppliers, giving each $100,000 in business, they may not take notice at all and you’ll stay at the lowest commission level with all of them.
Part of identifying your preferred supplier(s) for your niche will involve reaching out to the various BDMs. Meet with the various BDMs and discuss your plans. Let them know that you are working on establishing a niche, and you want to explore what it might look like if you partner with them and focus the bulk of your bookings on their ships. Picking your preferred supplier may hinge on their BDM. Will the BDM help you with co-op funds, travel nights, etc.? If a BDM strikes you as aloof and uninterested, move onto the next supplier. Think of it like dating. If you don’t click, you don’t keep dating, but move on. Find the supplier (and BDM) with whom you “click.”
Make A Plan
Once you have identified your passion (niche) and your preferred supplier(s), you need to sit down and develop a marketing strategy around your niche. Ideally sit down with your preferred supplier’s BDM and get his/her input on the best strategy for targeting your marketing for your niche. Where do you find clients that fit your niche and their product? What types of events should you target for participating in (i.e. those with a honeymoon niche would target bridal shows, but not necessarily RV shows)? What marketing practices have they seen succeed? Take their suggestions, and take what you have researched (studying other successful agents and agencies), and develop your own marketing plan.
Once you have a plan in place, revisit it on a scheduled basis (at a minimum on a quarterly basis, but preferably every month).
For fans of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, grab your towel. For everyone else, just don’t panic. As we’ve discussed in previous columns, a common fear among travel consultants is passing up business. Just because you have a specialty does not mean you have to pass up other business. It’s all in how you present your expertise, and formulate your marketing. One simple tactic would be to let people know that while you can book any type of cruise they may be interested in, your specialty is XYZ cruise line. Or your passion is ABC destination. Or your expertise is matching families with the right cruise for them. Once you build a relationship with a client, you can continue educating them in the vast travel services that you can provide to them, outside of your niche. So if you specialize in Disney cruises, when your clients return from that amazing cruise you sent them on, follow up and let them know you are available to provide other cruise experiences as well (like when mom and dad want to cruise on a different cruise line for their anniversary without the kids).
Ultimately, if you are going to declare a specialty, be specific. “I specialize in cruises” is not a specialty. “I specialize in helping families connect with nature through Alaskan cruises” is a specialty. So what is your cruise-related niche?
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in 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 email@example.com or by phone at (888) 221-1209.