Sometimes it takes time to develop a niche. Not every travel agent starts in the industry knowing immediately where they want to specialize. Wendy Dall, That Travel Lady, is one of those travel agents. We sat down recently with Wendy and talked to her about her entry into the world of travel, and how she finally honed in on her niche of romance travel.
Travel Research Online (TRO): How did you come to the decision to enter the travel industry?
Wendy Dall (WD): Prior to getting into travel I was an International Marketing Manager on the technology side. One company I worked for provided customer relationship manager systems for travel agents. I did my MBA in Denmark and lived in Europe for 13 years. I came to the United States in 2000 as the tech bubble burst, so when my first child was born in 2001 I decided to become a stay-at-home mom. At the age of 40 I had my second child, and five years later I was looking to return to the work force. That is when I decided to get into the travel industry.
TRO: Did you immediately set out on your own?
WD: No, I signed up with a local host agency and stayed with them for a year before branching out on my own. I have owned my own agency, That Travel Lady, for five years. I am affiliated with Travel Planners International, primarily for FIT bookings. I do most of my groups direct with suppliers.
TRO: Your niche is primarily romance travel. Did you settle on that immediately?
WD: No. I consider myself a diehard romantic. I seemed to naturally gravitate to romance travel, and I wanted to focus on doing “once in a lifetime” or bucket list travel. About four years ago I focused my niche on romance travel, and now it’s over 80% of my business. I am particular though; I don’t just take on all brides. There needs to be good chemistry between us. Instead of selling myself to them, I let them sell themselves to me. I tell them that I only take on a set number of brides each year.
TRO: Do you charge your brides a fee?
WD: Yes, it helps me and my clients to find the right fit.
TRO: How do you find your brides? Do you do a lot of advertising?
WD: No, mostly I market by word of mouth and social media; and social media wasn’t taught in my marketing MBA classes back in the day.
TRO: What do you wish you had known at the beginning that you know now?
WD: I wish I had known right away to specialize and narrow my interests. A lot of time was spent learning that, and it would have been much smoother if I had been told that right away.
Also, I learned that suppliers primarily give product knowledge, but not business or entrepreneurial knowledge. It took time to figure out where to find that knowledge, sometimes looking outside of the industry because it’s not readily available within the industry.
I also wish I had been given tools upfront (which I found on my own as I progressed), especially for organizing and keeping track of things, like a good, solid customer relationship management (CRM) program. I am still working on getting business methodologies into place.
TRO: What tips would you share with other travel agents?
WD: First, know who your target client is; don’t just say that you sell cruises. Who do you sell cruises to? Drilling down really helps you develop your message. And try to sell to people that you like.
It’s also important to know the buying patterns and behaviors of your target audience. For example, brides are not typically ready to purchase when they are at a bridal show.
Also when identifying your niche, be wary about trying to go where the money is instead of where your passion is; clients can tell when you aren’t passionate about what you are doing.
TRO: Having a marketing background, what marketing tips do you have?
WD: It is imperative to put together goals and a solid marketing plan. You should be able to evaluate your progress throughout the year; not just at the end of the year when doing your taxes. It’s hard to evaluate your progress when you don’t know what your goals are in the first place.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, 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.