The topic of specialization is one that comes up almost daily at GIFTE headquarters as we interact with business owners making a living selling travel. I have many logical reasons why specializing is the path to success as a seller of travel.
For one, it’s where the demand is. Your prospects are craving travel expertise and opinions. Just look at the daily traffic generated by TripAdvisor. And this demand is only going to grow further. Thousands of baby boomers are entering retirement each day and will continue to do so for the next 15 years. They have disposable income and increasing amounts of free time. The world wide web has given billions of people immediate access to so much information that it’s now difficult to ascertain what’s what. This information overload further increases demand for travel expertise, wisdom and opinion.
Since travel expertise is in great demand, it’s where the money is. Choosing the path of specialization is the choosing the path of a successful, sustainable travel business. But in my humble opinion, there is a much bigger reason to choose the path of specialization. It’s how you, as a business owner who makes a living selling travel, steps into the leadership role your industry is calling you to fill.
“Leaders don’t force people to follow, they invite them on a journey.” Charles S. Lauer
Why is your industry calling you to step into a leadership role? Because travel agents (experts) have fallen off the map of the traveling public (no pun intended.) In a 2014 poll mandated by ASTA, approximately 87% of those surveyed did not use a travel agent to plan their travel. The number 1 reason they didn’t use a travel agent was they didn’t think of it.
Why have travel agents fallen off the map of the traveling public? Because our industry has a preponderance of “accidental hobbyists.” When airlines eliminated commissions on most air, the devastating hit to revenues caused many traditional brick and mortar travel agencies to close their doors. Many displaced agents decided to work from home as independent contractors. Thus began a 15 year growth trend in home-based independent contractors. Fast forward 10-15 years later, new people in the business often take the route of being home based too.
It’s not their fault they are accidental hobbyists. They don’t want to be. They know how to sell travel. They love their clients. They are fantastic at what they do. But they don’t know how to run a profitable business in today’s environment. Quite simply, they don’t know how to make money. And the difference between a business owner and a hobbyist is one makes money, the other doesn’t. The biggest blind spot to making money selling travel is that they have not recognized that their business model has changed from travel agent to travel expert. And if they have recognized it, they still walk and talk like travel agents. The traveling public doesn’t need more travel agents, especially agents that are less nimble and on demand than the online booking engines.
What travelers do want is travel expertise. However, our accidental hobbyists are marketing their services the way they marketed 25 years ago, as travel agents. They market their products, not helpful information or solutions. The only time they communicate with their prospects and past clients is when a supplier has created an email for them, instead of having a system of regular dialogue to build know, like and trust. So the travelers who desperately want their wisdom and expertise have no idea they exist because the travel agent (accidental hobbyist) is invisible.
It’s time for the accidental hobbyists to turn their ships around, make more money, build thriving, sustainable businesses and put the travel expert back on the radar screen of the traveling public. It’s time for the accidental hobbyists to be leaders in our industry by choosing the path of specialization. Specialization is the solution.