Thinking about taking a leap into cyberspace? Steve Wasserman,
owner of $5 million Brighton Travel in Brighton, Mass., made the
transition from life in a brick-and-mortar travel agency to the
virtual world more successfully than most.
The former president of Carlson Travel Network Boston Marketing
Group, Wasserman lends his 25-plus years' experience to a new Web
site called VacationCoach.com, acting as a self-described
The site, which launched in early May, is designed to offer
finely tuned travel advice that helps qualify clients according to
The way it works is that site users build "passports" or
databases that help the VacationCoach staff offer advice based on a
detailed range of criteria.
Categories are as specific as families with children, families
with infants and toddlers, couples and singles.
Once the clients have been through the process, Wasserman said
they can bring the customized information to their travel
He added that the company will refer clients to agents if they
so desire and that preferred agents are simply those who have shown
an interest in working with the site.
Agents do not pay a fee to be on the preferred-agents list, and
consumers pay a nominal fee to join.
The introductory fee is $15, which is expected to climb to $25
at some unspecified future time.
As for agents worried about losing clients to the site, "the
information we collect on our members is completely confidential,"
The site does not offer a booking engine, but this option will
be in place at some point, he said, for those who prefer booking on
Thus far, the site, which accepts no advertising, offers
information about more than 130 vacation destinations in the U.S.,
compiled by research teams staffed by travel agents, among other
researchers, Wasserman said.
"Our destinations are being rated by ... travel agents who have
experience in that destination, and the agents then rate 64
characteristics of that destination on a scale of one to 10," he
The ratings are compared to destinations in the same area, he
added, so that the member doesn't end up with apples and
"It's a long process to qualify a destination, since we are
thorough and accurate, and travel agents are involved every step of
the way," Wasserman said.
By Felicity Long
According to Steve Wasserman, whose input helped create
VacationCoach.com, consumers aren't the only ones who stand to
benefit from Web sites such as his.
Travel agent members can find accurate, specific information for
their clients, and client members can approach agents with much of
their homework already done.
But although the site is taking up more and more of his time,
Wasserman is not about to abandon his agency, which he owns with
his 82-year-old mother, Belle Furash. "I've got some great
employees who take up the slack that allows me to spend more time
[at VacationCoach.com] than there," he said.
But even before joining the new company, Wasserman said his
agency had started the process of changing in order to be more in
tune with the marketplace.
"We were de-emphasizing airline sales in favor of more groups
and cruises. We also got a Web site and started working with
clients more via e-mail," he said.
Nowadays, Wasserman works in the agency two or three mornings a
week to solve problems "that can't be solved any other way."
He noted that even old clients are starting to work with others
in his office, reluctantly at first, but increasingly willingly as
"they find how capable they are."
Fine-tuning your niche
Although the current trend toward specialization or niche
marketing has merit, it is not a "one size fits all" theory.
Being an expert in a specific interest, such as golfing, can be
lucrative. However, you must use common sense when choosing a
specialty. Defining a market too narrowly could put you out of
business. Too broad a demographic, such as seniors (defined by the
American Association of Retired Persons as 52 years of age and up),
and the commonality factor is removed.
You should have a database of clients that contains more than
just names and addresses.
analysis of your clients will give you an average of their ages,
trip budgets and trip lengths. Depending on your database you can
further define your clients in other ways such as by destination,
interest and preferred travel product.
Let's say you discover that more than 50% of your clients are
families. However, the ages of the children in these families range
from infants to older teens. You can break down the children into
three or four age groups and market accordingly. Speak to supplier
sales reps about what their product has to offer for each age
group. Then create lists of products that not only support each age
group but also various destinations, budgets and trip lengths.
Becoming a specialist or developing a niche is expensive and
time-consuming. Before making a commitment, analyze your current
client base and ask yourself some questions. What is my predominant
demographic? Is there a common thread of interest in my client
base? Will marketing or location help me increase either the
interest or demographic? Will referral or repeat business support
You are the only one who can answer these questions, and only
you can decide what is best for your business.
Lucy Hirleman, CTC, MCC, owns Berkshire Travel in
Contact her at [email protected];
Fax: (973) 208-1204.