The first key to success is to find a niche-and there are plenty of them. All of this is waiting for the right entrepreneur, both for companies servicing inbound (providing local tours by referral from travel planners) and outbound (sending customers on tours they've designed) customers.
Tricia Suriel, 38, saw an opportunity for a mountain bike touring company in the overlooked destination of the Dominican Republic. After starting Iguana Mama with $10,000 in 1993, she decided to sell her Breckenridge, Colorado, children's ski school, put the proceeds into the ever-growing new operation and move to the island. She's now something of a celebrity there.
Similarly, George Deeb got frustrated while trying to compare offerings for things he wanted to do, like scuba dive in Belize or climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Using business contacts he'd acquired as an investment banker, the 31-year-old secured venture funding for a comparison-shopping Web site (www.iexplore.com) where consumers could find the perfect trip by checking out offerings from different companies; he then talked 100 companies (that compete with one another) into putting everything about their 5,000 vacation packages online, backed by extensive help-desk support. Now, iExplore Inc. provides everything from weather information to maps while earning a commission on booked tours and sales of travel gear. But if you don't own a ski school and aren't a finance professional, you'll probably need to work harder and more creatively to get the money together.