As we enter this new year, one has to ask if diversification and creativity might be solutions to the kinds of pressures traditional travel retailers are feeling.
I remember once selling cruises for a large travel club on the West Coast. In a meeting one day, someone suggested that we "change the colors on the painting," meaning that we should give every cruise a new, unique look.
"Why" we asked, "do we have to sell the cruises as they are sent to us in brochure form by each line? Why not give them all, each and every one, a new paint job?"
Our goal was simple. We wanted to do away with endless price checking. We wanted to sell products that were reconstructed so that every sailing was totally unique, with nontransparent pricing.
We added packages pre-, post- and in the middle of standard cruise itineraries. We tricked out several ports with proprietary experiences and events. We had hotels included as well as some private driver services.
Once we set out to do this, we found that we could utilize many of the programs we were creating on a wide variety of lines. We had "historyless lifestyle cruises," "foodie cruises" and (my favorite) "in search of (fill in the blank)," which enabled us to add themes no one had ever considered.
It all went quite well, and we were enjoying our work because we were selling exclusive products that no one else understood. To be sure, we lost some folks who just wanted to book a simple cruise, but our add-ons enabled us to offer values no one else had, and our take on cruising was seen as more focused than simply purchasing a cruise and just buying the cruise line's shore excursions.
That experience led me to a growing interest in new travel business models. Why do what everyone else is doing? The public perception will usually be: "Well, the internet sells that for less."
As we begin another year, I thought it might be worthwhile to briefly suggest some of the new ideas I've been offering new entrants in our industry who want to make their mark in some unique specialization or way to do business. Perhaps one of these will appeal to you:
• The domestic safari company -- game-viewing throughout the U.S. This will involve rural travel, a concept that has legs. Think of the cost of a quality domestic game drive versus a top-tier safari in Southern Africa. Savings, safety and unique chances to see wild animals in their natural habitats.
• Red and blue tours. Two escorts -- one conservative, the other progressive -- enable clients to examine destinations with a fresh, perhaps alternative perception. Go off with the guide you prefer. At night, sit with whom you please. My guess is that by the end of the trip, sharing ideas and meals, the group might actually come together.
• Travel-book tours. The guides are writing instructors and self-publishing experts. Writing time would be in a quiet setting in the afternoon each day. Photos that are added to a published book would be available within one week of the guest's return home, ordered in any quantity they prefer with custom binding, etc. A published memory book. I think there is a vast, untapped audience for this kind of focused travel.
• The travel referral agency. A fresh take on outside sales agents. Instead, agencies would recruit well-connected, nontravel professionals who sell absolutely nothing. Instead, they simply refer clients to the agency in exchange for a specific training program and benefits, but they do no planning of their own.
• 24/7 flight-monitoring firm. Provide a private membership club with a team of air-monitoring specialists who provide real-time, 24/7 flight-information services, including adjusted flight times, cancelled flights and best current alternative gate information, plus weather en route and any changes to a member's flight schedule. Communication would be via text and email. You could charge extra for baggage-monitoring services.
• Seeing and shooting. A tour company that appeals to gun owners and those who enjoy target competitions using foreign-designed weapons of note. Sightseeing is combined with visits to gun manufacturers and the best local shooting ranges, where group competitions are held.
• Pickleball touring. An opportunity to invest in America's fastest-growing participation sport. Players and tour members are given a handicap and play one another on different courses in exciting settings. Doing a pickleball-focused tour means you are getting your exercise while seeing all that you would normally see. It also ensures that your fellow tour members are fairly active.
• You make the coffee. Dessert's on us. Who says travel advisers have to work out of an office or out of their homes? It is a fact that clients don't live in either location. So why not go where they are: to their homes, in the evening, by invitation. The travel adviser brings one or two truly memorable desserts. The hosts prepare coffee or tea. Neighbors or friends are encouraged to attend.
The advisers are not selling anything other than themselves. They enable their clients to be comfortable at home while discussing travel options and answering questions on the spot. This idea that if the client wants to meet us they must come to us is really outdated. And don't discount the word-of-mouth benefits associated with home visits and great desserts.
• Cool travel. How about an agency that is entirely devoted to planning vacations to places on this planet that have cooler temperatures than the client's hometown?
As the planet warms and weather patterns are changing in front of our eyes, there is an untapped desire to visit places that are colder than home.
It is not a coincidence that destinations like Antarctica, the Arctic, Iceland and Greenland are among the world's "hottest" destinations of the moment. Cool temps sell.
• The world with dinner. It is, I think, a simple concept, but I am not aware of anyone who is doing it.
A certain percentage of domestic and international travelers don't want to make their own dinner plans each night. Sure, they can stumble into a local place for lunch, but while on tour, many of our clients would love to have local specialty restaurant reservations every night of their trip. They would love to see the world with dinner included (a hard one given menu options) or at least, inclusive of transportation and reservations each evening.
Does your agency have a "restaurant reservations concierge?" No? Well then, why not? Don't your clients manage dinner every evening while they're traveling. Let's take care of their needs.
• The pop-up travel agency. Why not take your business to where there are large crowds of people? An agency that can suddenly appear at major festivals and events will enable you to own an exciting venue. You are still in the office several days a week, but your agency takes on a new identity as the one that "goes where the best people gather."
You're not selling, you're just handing out business cards with pre-negotiated offers on the back. Have cards printed for each event so people will remember where they met you. Outdoor art exhibits are excellent for meeting affluent potential clients.
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I hope that one or two of these models turns you on. You don't need to jump in with both financial feet. Think new division or subsidiary. Think out of the internet box, or it will likely swallow you whole.