Opinion Reality Check Alternatives to business as usual By Richard Turen / May 25, 2017 Share 1 -- It has been a while since we threw all of the rules out the window and reimagined the travel agency model in this time of new consumer expectations.Having an identity, a brand, is more important than it ever was. Specialization and personalization are key components of new business strategies for those seeking a way to stand out from the crowd at a time when your potential clients are under the impression that they can easily master any expertise required to plan a trip.I don't do a great deal of consulting, due to time constraints, but I did want to share some of my favorite business concepts for a rebranded agency that knows what it really wants to accomplish. You will note that each of these specialized concepts has a retail setting with obvious online expansion potential. Here are some of the concepts we've designed that I think may have legs.Earth HavensThis is an agency concept that addresses concerns, even fears, about safety abroad with a positive specialization in travel to the 20 safest destinations on Earth. Maintaining an updated list will be one of the agency's branding points. Visitors to the company's website would be eager to know where they might go on vacation to enjoy the highest levels of personal safety during their explorations. This enables the staff to concentrate on 20 destinations and to know them extremely well.We can talk about trends all we want, but the ultimate trend is the sense of discomfort we feel when traveling with our loved ones abroad. Bookings with Earth Havens will help to alleviate those concerns.Island expertiseI am a big proponent of an agency concept that is totally devoted to the world's top 100 islands. There are many more than a hundred islands worth exploring on this planet, but I don't see any agency saying it will totally devote itself to finding, evaluating and selling the best.This is not a self-limiting idea. Think about how much of what we sell at the average agency that already falls under this umbrella. I am just suggesting owning the concept.Trains and planesYou usually have to fly to get anywhere overseas, but after that, train travel abroad is often far more pleasant and adventurous than anything we offer in this country. This concept involves a high-visibility, upscale retail location. The owners would hire the best train layout designers and pay them to lay down an incredible series of train tracks running through the agency and along the walls, highlighting real destinations where train travel is appropriate. It would be a costly venture, but it would also be a permanent exhibit that would bring large numbers of visitors to the agency. It could, if done well, become a destination in its own right. The tracks would need to be elevated and out of the way of small children. Model passenger planes would be flying from the ceiling. This idea can serve for train-specific travel, but it could also be designed to incorporate a full-service agency concept. Cars abroadThere is, I believe, some untapped opportunity to combine travel planning with an interest in the rental and purchase of upscale European automobiles. Tours of factories and rides in the newest vehicles on their test tracks can be arranged for travelers to Europe. Exotic cars can be rented with a significant commission. But the real opportunity lies in renting with the option to buy. An affiliation with brands like Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari or BMW would be helpful to attract a favorable demographic. This concept comes with an amazing series of design opportunities as well as a branded company car. If overseas sales can be established, clients are actually saving thousands of dollars by using the agency's purchase-abroad options. The Pear Travel brandWhy leave all of the bright, engaged retail shoppers to the Apple Store? The "Pear" concept (not necessarily the name you would choose) would be set up to mimic the very best features of Apple retailing, including more than a dozen big-screen video options, roving travel ambassadors and a travel "genius bar" where snacks are served and actual planning takes place in a casual bar/lounge setting. The consumer gets to walk around the space, viewing the latest technology featuring the best travel products, along with the opportunity to try on the latest virtual reality headsets. There might even be a robot that goes around the space greeting people and answering some of their questions. But at Pear Travel, everyone stands unless they actually want to plan a trip, in which case they get to sit down with a "genius" for some serious conversation.The digital travel bookstore/agencyThis one harkens back to an earlier time, a rich-looking bookshop in old England with deep, comfortable chairs and floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with travel books covering every area of the world. The agents' desks would be discreetly placed away from the main reading area. Tea would be served to clients at the agents' desks, and digital books could be rented. Of course, the travel books would be sold.But the real value is that every party that books a trip receives a gift certificate enabling the customers to prowl the shelves to select books to help prepare them for their destination. Ideally, the space would be large enough to host travel author presentations and gatherings of travelers with similar interests. Intelligent, affluent travelers are prone to support local booksellers. The community might really enjoy this concept. Hotels that floatThis is a new take on an existing idea, an agency totally dedicated to the sale of ocean and river cruises around the world. The centerpiece would be a to-scale replica of a river somewhere in the world, with models of some of the important sites and boats that are docked or moving from place to place. The visuals could extend to the firm's website. Cruises would be divided into "Five-Star Inclusive Luxury" and "Major Brands/Best Value" sections. River cruising is the fastest-growing segment of the industry, or at least it has been. Ocean and rivers exclusively is a potentially profitable segmentation, but it is far broader than the traditional "cruise only" agency. The river must literally run through the agency, and ships and river vessels must be represented as stays aboard some of the world's great hotels that happen to have the added benefit of being able to float from place to place. Even the Burj al Arab in Dubai can't do that. This concept comes complete with the idea that bookings are made at a mock-up of an upscale hotel check-in desk to further the hotel connection. All ships are always referred to as Floating Hotels, and land-based hotels are dismissed as vacation places that just sit in one place, lacking the ability to move.Personal coffee, personal travelThis one has a few proprietary aspects, but it boils down to this: Coffee is the most profitable item on any restaurant menu.Still, nearly every coffee concept has been done, so here is a new one: The guests see coffee beans described in readable print on the walls of the agency, choose their personal blend by the number and receive a print-out of the blend they just invented. They then have the option of sitting down in back with a consultant who can "personalize your vacation just like your coffee." What I like about this concept is that everyone who walks in the door receives an actual personalized experience as simple as a cup of coffee they have designed or a truly personalized trip planned by a caring consultant.