Thought Leadership Sponsored by The Mark Travel Corporation Spot on with Specialization Stand out from the crowd with strategic specialization choices July 28, 2017 Share 1 -- As potential travelers continue to be overwhelmed with an abundance of information online, there’s been a steady increase in travelers turning to travel agents who can help them wade through everything and act as a trusted and expert advisor. Agents who specialize in specific kinds of travel—and highlight their expertise across all channels—are those who are best poised to attract these potential clients, whether their interests are family travel or a destination wedding, Europe or the Caribbean, hiking through the backwoods or relaxing at a luxury resort. “The consumer has evolved to the point where travelers are able to do all their research online, they know where they want to go, and they’re looking for advice and expertise from their travel agent,” says Luke Gibson, director of travel agency engagement for The Mark Travel Corporation (TMTC). “Travel agents who position themselves as subject matter experts and specialists are able to differentiate themselves in the marketplace to attract those savvy consumers. They are the trusted experts for today’s consumers.” That expertise plays out through all stages of the travel sales process—from attracting the right clients to expediting planning to providing a level of service and knowledge that will keep clients returning. For example, according to Travel Weekly’s 2016 Consumer Travel Survey, nearly half (47 percent) of all travelers who use travel agents find those agents online. While some will opt for a travel agent simply because of a neighboring zip code, the majority are searching for travel agents who demonstrate expertise in the traveler’s area of travel interest. A strategic web presence that highlights specialties and expertise, including consistent messaging across social media, a company’s website and lead generation technology, can attract clients who are serious about booking.Mix and Match For some, the decision about what to specialize in comes easily. When Kate Marikova, senior travel consultant at Bayside Travel, came to the United States from her hometown of Prague in the Czech Republic, European travel was an obvious starting point for her. “People see my name, hear my accent, read about my background and my extensive experience traveling throughout Europe—that automatically gives me credibility,” she says. “They know I have firsthand knowledge about the destinations I specialize in.” Still, European travel—including such further refined specialties as European river cruises, rail travel, Christmas markets and more—is only one of her specialties. “I live in Wisconsin and the winters are cold here,” she laughs. “From December through April, Caribbean travel is our main market. I now specialize in the Caribbean as well, including all-inclusives, honeymoons and destination weddings.” Marikova’s specialties highlight the importance of creating the right mix for your own individual situation. Here’s a look at some factors to consider:Current experience and market mix: What do you know best? What are you currently selling? What kinds of requests are you getting from potential clients? Where are you currently having the most success?Target market: While the Internet means that clients can choose travel agents from all over the country, there’s still a natural inclination for many clients to want to work with someone close to home. What are the demographics of travelers in your geographic region? Where do they typically go? What might entice them to try something different or new? Cessy Meacham, CTIE, traveler entrepreneur and owner of Anytime Travel Solutions, asked just those questions a few years ago when she was looking to put together a trip to Italy. "In Melbourne, Florida, where I live, there are many educated and intelligent women engineers who haven’t traveled much. I wanted to create a safe and interesting way for them to start to explore.” Thus was born her first women-only trip to Italy in 2009, which she now re-creates annually.Passion and expertise: Where do you love to travel? What excites you? What destinations or types of travel do you want to live and breathe every day? While Meacham chose her target market strategically, her choice of destination for that first trip was an act of love, pure and simple. “I had fallen in love with Italy a few years earlier,” she says, “and I wanted to share it with everyone.” And she continues to offer signature packages, many of which she personally escorts, based on her own passions. “Certain places touch your heart,” she says. In fact, she even created a separate website for these custom trips, which include other experiences that have touched her heart, including Peru (her home country), an African safari, Mexico’s Wine County in Baja California and more (only Italy is women-only).Pulling it Together While specialties can be a way for agents to find continued passion in their work, there are other very practical reasons for specialization. “Specialization cuts down on the time it takes to convert an inquiry to a booking,” says Marikova. "Because I really know my markets, I am efficient in putting together a proposal that’s customized to a client, which increases the odds that the client will book with me.”Specialization is also what is likely to bring that client to you in the first place. “Clients have thousands of agents to choose from,” says Meacham. “Why should they choose you among all the others? I highlight my knowledge and my passion in everything a potential client will see. If you love what you’re doing, clients will recognize that.”Agents who have had success with specialties also continue to refine and add to their offerings as appropriate. “I don’t necessarily look for new specialties,” says Marikova, before laughing and going on to describe what might become her next specialty. Building on the success of an annual marathon in Jamaica that she sends several women to, and her own recent experience running a marathon in Prague, she muses about the possibility of creating tours centered around marathons in different destinations.Meacham, too, says firmly: “I want to say I’m not looking for any more specialties.” But she wonders what will happen when she reaches 12 (one special tour a month) and where her next adventure might be…“I’m always learning something new,” Meacham says. “I take courses to keep my certification, join webinars and trainings around my current specialties, read everything relevant in the trades and newsletters, and travel on fans when appropriate. But there’s only so much time, so I have to be selective about training and trips that align with my goals.”Success with Specialization The Mark Travel Corporation (TMTC) has been helping travel agents make their clients’ vacation dreams come true for more than 40 years. We are also committed to helping you grow your business with our brands Funjet Vacations, United Vacations®, Southwest Vacations® and Blue Sky Tours. “Consumer expectations have changed through the years,” says Luke Gibson, TMTC director of travel agency engagement. “Today’s knowledgeable traveler requires that their travel agent is a true expert. They don’t just want to know what the beach looks like, or some other fact they can find online. They want a personalized recommendation from a knowledgeable professional.”TMTC is on hand in several ways to help travel agents identify and optimize specializations. “Our business development managers can help with any kind of specialization,” says Gibson, “including business planning and engagement, identifying and evaluating needs, and adapting to marketplace trends.”For those new to TMTC, Gibson notes that the Implementation team helps travel agents looking to grow their business with TMTC. “Through one-to-one education, they help agents provide extra value, maximize earnings, understand the benefits of TMTC programs and more so that agents are fully prepared to specialize in areas of their choice.”In addition, TMTC offers webinars, training and custom local events throughout the year, as well as the highly regarded annual TMTC Summit, where agents are fully immersed in creative and targeted training sessions. Gibson also notes that award-winning TMTC engagement tools such as the Lookbook, Creative Connection and Here & Beyond magazine help travel agents position themselves as experts in their chosen specialties. “We’re in the business of helping travel agents succeed,” says Gibson.Get started today at TheMarkTravelCorporation.com.