When the internet arrived on the scene, concern rose whether there would be a need for the travel professional. After all, with a few clicks of a mouse, one could book one’s flight from LA to Singapore or London to Cape Town. With a few more clicks, you could hold three nights at the St. Regis in Bangkok. If you wanted to book a 14-day group tour of China, all you needed to do was google “group tours to China” and click into any of the top 3 results. Easy peasy, right?
Not so much. If you’ve ever done any of the steps above, you know booking an incredible holiday is never as easy as click, click, click.
Nope. As fun as it was; in the beginning – to go online and compare one hotel to the next…It was fraught with problems.
A hotel that was described by Trip Advisor as “cozy and quaint” and “great value for money” turned out to be a windowless shoebox in the seediest part of town, miles away from any point of interest. Awesome.
What’s worse is that you realize you have little recourse. You can’t get your money back. Under what grounds…Trip Advisor said it was fab? So you’re stuck, hating your supposed relaxing trip away from your busy life, and beginning to count the hours until you pack up and head home – not cool.
And it’s not only in choosing the hotel where mistakes were made. You also booked a day tour of Angkor Wat through Viatour and arrived at the temple gates at 10 AM along with 100 other busloads of tourists. How were you to know that the best time to visit one of the world’s most inspiring temples is before daybreak and well before the madding crowds?
The problem, of course, is that all this information is on the internet but rarely on page one of the search results. And quite honestly, who has time to read through hundreds of posts when you have a full-time job, need to check Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, watch the season finale of Game of Thrones and call your Mom to wish her a happy birthday?
Most people have since come to realize the value of using a travel professional. The novelty of DIYing your holiday has long lost its lustre. And that’s where you come in.
The travel professional.
Here is the thing. The industry has evolved over the years, and the travel agent of the 1990s doesn’t look anything like the travel professional of today. Nobody needs a travel agent anymore. If all you are going to do is click and book a flight for your client, you are a commodity. And while some people may still reach out and ask you for this service, you will never make a ton of money because the perceived value is low.
I firmly believe that there is a career to be had selling travel, but in order to be successful, you must offer value that your client cannot easily or quickly obtain on their own.
And this is where choosing a niche comes in.
While anything is possible if you set your mind to it, the chances of you becoming an expert on the entire world and in every style of travel are slim. And even if somehow you did manage this arduous task, it would be hard for anyone to believe.
A far better idea is to pick one area of travel that you genuinely love. Say you enjoy cruising. The idea of being transported from port to port all the while eating and drinking, gambling and dancing the night away excites you.
Or you are a foodie. Someone who knows how to spot the best cardamom in the vibrant souks of Marrakech or the best dim sum found on Nathan Road in Hong Kong. Maybe your love of sashimi will entice your tribe of followers to book a tour with you to the Japanese coastal town of Nagasaki.
The more of a defined niche you carve out for yourself, the better the opportunity to become an expert in that field.
Selling budget adventure travel was my first niche. After all, I had spent three years of my life travelling the world, solo, on ten US dollars a day – inclusive of room and board. That in itself was a life skill to master. It was a natural fit for me to then pursue a career with a company that focused on selling that style of travel. I sold the world. I wasn’t an expert at any one destination, but as far as how to travel frugally, I had that down.
Later, I carved out my niche even further by only focusing on travel in Asia. One could also argue that there is value in learning about only one country and knowing it like a local. But for me, I needed a broader range of topics rather than just one country. If you are just starting out, it might make sense to go the one destination route until you feel entirely knowledgeable – smart enough to sweep a full category on Jeopardy in the area of your choice. Then you can add to your repertoire of knowledge. But no question, the more you immerse yourself in either a destination or a style of travel, the better the chances of you becoming an expert.
You’ll notice that I post many articles on my area of expertise. You can read them to get a better idea of how I’ve honed my craft over the years and hey, I might even inspire you to make Asia your niche as well. After all, it’s the world’s largest continent. There is enough room for both of us.
Your next question might be… but aren’t I pigeon-holing myself by only selling travel to Antarctica? Are there really that many people who want to travel to the southern pole? You might be surprised. In a world of over 7.8 billion people, a good many of them plan on visiting the seventh continent either this year or in the coming years. And there aren’t a lot of experts selling travel to Antarctica. Why not you?
For many people, Antarctica has always been on their bucket list. They are willing to shell out a sizeable amount to travel there. They will want to work with someone who knows their stuff.
Not only can you earn a commission from the cruise companies who sail to the region (and I’ll go into that in more depth in a later article) but you can even charge a service fee for your advice. It takes time for someone with a full-time job, and a host of other commitments (scrolling Instagram), to do the necessary research to ensure a flawless experience. And there’s a time cost to that. Even if they do put in the time, they won’t have the years of experience you’ve amassed to ensure success.
Saving someone highly coveted time has tremendous value. Some professions get paid upwards of $1000 per hour for their expertise. To waste sixty minutes researching a dream trip to Antarctica is what is referred to as an opportunity loss. They’d essentially be giving up an hour of billable time. What’s worse, it’s highly unlikely that in only one hour, they will have enough information to make the best choices. You, on the other hand, someone who sells Antarctica every day many times over, know every ship in the Weddell Sea. Investing in you is worth it to them.
And that’s only one example. Whether it’s Antarctica or Disneyworld, knowing the ins and outs of any travel product intimately makes you valuable to someone who doesn’t. Nailing your niche means you are no longer a commodity. You are a specialist and an expert, and for that, you will be rewarded.
The marketplace always rewards those who offer the most value. The more you invest in honing your niche, the more relevant and valued you become. Above all else, focus on the quality of your craft. You’ve heard the adage, “A Jack of all trades yet a master of none.” Don’t be Jack.
Think about what lights you up the most when it comes to travel, and don’t worry, just because you pick one niche today doesn’t mean you’ll be tied to it for the next 30 years.
Consider it your first stepping stone and make that leap.