By Doug Oakley
Duffy Gold is one of those travel agents who knows the value of
an untapped niche market. Since starting her own agency in
Farmington, N.M., five years ago, profits from biker tours have
risen to 25 percent of her total agency take.
Although the name of her agency is Seas the Moment Travel, Gold
markets the motorcycle tours under the name Hog the Moment Travel.
"Hog" refers to Harley Davidson motorcycles, although anyone who
rides any kind of motorcycle is fair game.
Not only does this agent know the value of a lucrative, untapped
market, she also has the know-how to dig in and make it work. "It
was one of those things that said to me, 'This market is not being
tapped,' " the New York City native explained.
Gold doesn't even ride motorcycles. In fact, she only got on the
back of one for the first time just last year. So why motorcycles
then? Why not go with something she knew better? Mostly it came
down to survival. "You can't depend on your walk-in trade," said
Gold. "You must go search the business. You have to pursue it."
Gold also does group cruises, golf cruises and some general travel
for repeat clients.
Like any successful entrepreneur, Gold dove into the biking
world head-first. She learned as she went, enjoying the whole
subculture of bikers and their machines along the way. "I started
going to biker shows," said Gold, whose been in the travel business
20 years and now has six outside agents selling travel for her. "I
would set up my booth right in between the booths selling body
piercing and black leather chaps and bras. My card would be out and
people would ask if I could find biker-friendly places to
Then someone from the Honda group would say, 'Can you find 100
rooms?' " And that's how it started.
Gold still doesn't ride motorcycles. But she does know where to
rent the bikes, nationally and internationally; where the good
roads are, and how to get the client on a bike and on the road. She
also knows that bikers are not cheap. Renting a motorcycle in
Europe costs about $150 a day, she said, "and when you put air in,
it makes for a very nice profit."
Gold maintains that there's a niche for every agent to take
advantage of and prosper from -- if only they would take the
initiative. "There is a place for agents, even with the caps, but
some of them are so locked into their computer reservations systems
that they don't get out and do it," she said.
Gold did it. Against the audible objections of her daughter, she
practically rode a wheelie right into the market. "There are bike
meets, and they sell all kinds of things: You can get tattooed,
body pierced, you can buy chaps, gloves, bras, bandannas," Gold
explained. "I'd be in the middle of all this and the bikers would
say, 'Wow, travel!' And there still aren't any travel people at
As Gold found out, the biker clients she cultivates are not your
stereotypical beer-chugging outlaws who tear up small towns for
fun. In fact, said Gold, many of her clients are mild mannered
business people in gray suits by day who periodically put on a
temporary tattoo, leather jacket and go for a ride.
"These people spend money," she said. "As long as it's not
criminal, they do whatever they want. It gives the stockbrokers an
opportunity to be one of the boys. Nobody knows him, he's got the
beard, the temporary tattoo and a week later he's back on Wall
Street. The wives do it, too."
Gold said the way she got over the stigma of bikers, a stigma
practically set in stone by gory headlines from the Hells Angels
and others, was by being "nonjudgmental." That mind-set has paid
off. "I think because I was non-judgmental, I found acceptance,"
said Gold. "You do one show, then the vendors all know you because
they are all the same at every show," and your name gets
Now she is even working on an inbound European program for
bikers who want to come and tour the Southwest where the weather is
good and the riding easy. The Italians in particular, she said,
"are absolutely nuts about biking."
So are Americans who bike in Europe, she said. A couple will
spend $7,000 for a week there. "Once one couple goes, they will go
again, and they'll bring friends and there will be four instead of
two, or eight instead of four," said Gold.
But first you have to get the clients. Going to biker
conventions will cost you some money, but Gold said the investment
has paid off for her. Four or five days at a show will cost about
$600, which is not much compared to the dividend it will yield in
And after doing the mining at conventions and shows and selling
the trip, there's follow-up to make sure the client will come back
and bring friends. "My clients continually educate me -- 'loved
this tour, could not stand that one, this was a good place to eat'
-- that's the relationship you build.
"Selling travel is listening to the client. I give them two days
back after their trip, then I call them. If they had any problems
they will tell you, and if I can't correct it, I will
That kind of work and customer service has netted a group of
customers "who absolutely will not talk to anyone else about their
travel," Gold said. And what more could you ask for?