Now is really a great time to enter the specialty travel market. Americans have a lot more disposable income than ever before-and women, in particular, are spending it on travel. In addition, by 2010 the oldest of the baby boomer generation will reach age 65, and those who have hung onto jobs until then just may jump onto the travel bandwagon to see what they've been missing during their wage-earning years. The Travel Institute, a leading travel trade association, estimates that travel and tourism is a $1.3 trillion industry in the United States-and it's growing. That means there's many opportunities for you.
You can start this business as a homebased venture, which will keep your overhead low, or work as an independent contractor for another company. Whichever way you go, it's important to note that experienced travel business owners emphasize that specialization is imperative if you want to have the best chance at success in the travel industry. "Finding a niche is very important. Offer a specialized service like skiing or foreign incentive travel-anything that's not available in a tour book," says Bill Jilla, the Florida independent contractor. "That's how I built my business. I used my expertise and knowledge to create specialized products, then I was able to charge higher service fees for them."
- Prospective Clients
- Types of Services
- A Closer Look at Specialty/Niche Travel Services
- A Closer Look at Corporate Travel Services
- Low-to-No-Cost Promotional Techniques
Evan Eggers, the New Hampshire online cruise expert, concurs. "Just type 'vacation' into Google and see what your competition will be," he says. "[Over] 11 million hits later you'll see why you need to specialize. You need a focus-or you won't be successful. The key is to find your strength and make it into a competitive advantage. Our strength [at SureCruise.com] is that we're 'propeller heads,' and when cruise lines quietly drop their prices, we tell everyone, and [our customers] love it. As a result, we have lots of traffic on our website."
Paths to Entering the Field
There are two main ways to get into the specialty travel field:
- Specialize in tours and packages tailored to the interests and needs of particular groups, either as a travel agent advisor or a tour operator. Commonly offered tours include honeymoon packages, cruise or European tours, as well as student travel and family-focused trips. Or you can deviate from the prepackaged offerings from your suppliers and get creative by offering packages of your own making, including everything from eco-tours (i.e. expeditions to the Arctic or archeological dig sites), to tornado-chasing, golden-ager expeditions and other excursions created for specific demographic groups, such as physically challenged or gay/lesbian travelers.
- Offer a very specialized niche travel service that appeals to a very narrow demographic. The trick is, of course, to find a niche with big sales potential, either because it's attached to a demographic with high-income levels or because there could be a lot of demand. One such niche is luxury travel. We've already met two entrepreneurs who have been very successful in this arena. Whether you want to offer specialized travel services like they do or you simply wish to handle travel for the rich and famous, as Filip Khan, a Detroit travel agent, does, there's a wealth of opportunity in this arena for the right services.
Cruise-Only Travel Service
While you can come up with a travel itinerary for just about any niche group, there's no question that the niche with the most sizzle is cruises. They're definitely the fastest growing segment in the travel industry. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) forecasts that cruise passenger levels will be up by more than half a million people this year, or 4.1 percent, over the previous year. And of course, the 12.6 million cruise passengers who will take to the seas this year will need to buy their tickets and packages somewhere, which means that specializing in a muy caliente market could be a very savvy career move, indeed.
Eggers recommends keeping your costs down if you start a cruise business by either building a very strong website that induces potential customers to call you (which negates the need for a team of salespeople) or establishing an online cruise service as he did. "We serve more than 2,000 customers annually and have experienced 50-percent growth without staff, all because of technology," he says. "Have your home computer system built to [the cruise lines' specifications] so you can get a commitment from them to share information about their specials, then pass it along to customers."
Depending on whether you work out of a home office or in a brick-and-mortar facility, your startup costs can vary widely. As mentioned before, it's recommended that you establish your new business at home to keep costs down. Otherwise, you'll find the startup costs will mount quickly.
You'll find a sample startup expenses chart in the Travel Services start-up guidethat lists the costs for two fictitious travel service businesses: Roaming With Russell Tours, a homebased sole proprietorship that specializes in European travel, costs $4,644 to start. Sea Cruise Travel, an online cruise specialist with two agents (the owner and an independent contractor who works part time) that has higher startup costs of $21,293.