Find a Travel Niche: A Step-by-Step Guide
I am a HUGE advocate of agents finding a travel niche. I push for it for multiple reasons—one of which is that having a niche makes it easier to find a host agency that fits your needs (one of the main points of my site). If that didn't get your tail wagging in excitement, I'm sure the fact that having a travel niche makes it easier to grow your agency—allowing you to make more money—will do the trick. 😊
Repeat after Me: A Travel Niche Isn't Scary.
Do me a favor. When you think niche, don't get all stressed and think it needs to be something off-the-wall like scholar tours to medieval battle sites. Your travel niche doesn't need to be complicated or rare (but it can be). Niche travel can mean you're specializing in a certain demographic, a type of travel, a destination, or any other number of things.
Put simply, having a travel niche means you put boundaries on what you sell. It can be a broad niche (luxury travel) or a niche with a narrow focus (educational tours for ESL students). You can't be an expert on everything, so narrow it down and decide what you will be an expert on. With internet competition, being an expert helps you differentiate.
Passion. Passion. Passion!
Finding a piece in the niche travel pie isn't as hard as you might think. With the millions of hobbies, destinations, and types of travelers the possibilities are abound. The key behind finding a successful niche for your agency is making sure it's not only a niche, but that your heart is into it.
I started a side business 6 years ago. It had great potential, yet it flopped. There was demand, no competition, and I had the relationships with my potential buyers. So why did it flop? In hindsight, it's obvious—I didn't have the passion for it. That was a big lesson for me.
When you choose a travel niche, look beyond if there is a market and how much competition you face. Don't forget to make sure you have an undying passion for that niche.
Finding a Travel Niche—A Brainstorming Guide
How in the world can you find your travel niche? Don't worry, I've got a little How to Find a Travel Niche Worksheet to help you.
We're going to go over how to do the worksheet below but if you'd like an example, you can also download our completed sample worksheet to see how we did it.
Brainstorm Guide Questions
We already discussed that passion was key to a successful niche. This column helps identify what you love to do, your strengths, and where you're considered an expert already.
- What are you passionate about? (e.g. politics, gymnastics, stitching)
- What do you have an in-depth knowledge of? (e.g. wines, gardening, fishing, maritime history)
- What are you good at? (e.g. cooking, stand-up comedy, building rockets)
- What do you do in your free time? (e.g. genealogy, write, read wedding magazines)
Write down all answers that come to mind without passing judgement. That means adding underwater basket weaving without questioning if it's a passion or just a passing fad. (Though we really hope it's a passing fad.)
You can be successful without a network but it's much harder since you have to build trust and establish your expertise. Utilizing the networks you already have in place—or ones you can easily break into—is going to save you a lot of time, energy, and money. The most successful agents have an existing network that they were immediately able to market to. This column helps you recognize your connections.
What business networks do you belong to? (e.g. BNI, union, boards)
- What events have you attended recently? (e.g. PTO meeting, tweetup, dog training class)
- What are common hobbies of your friend groups? (e.g. Hiking, golfing, drinking)
- What groups do you belong to? (e.g. Cancer support group, ski club, bible study)
- What groups/networks do your close family/friends belong to? (e.g. Your kids, partner, parents, neighbors)
If you're on LinkedIn, check out Socilab—a map that visualizes your LinkedIn connections. You can easily see how your contacts are clustered to identify networks. Below you can see my map. Down side to this? They only process up to 499 connections so if you're an uber networker, it won't show everyone.
I would have never remembered that a group of close friends origin was the Asia Club. You can zoom in and find out the most 'connected' people in your circles (seen as larger circles). These are great people to contact about your business!
Zooming in also allows you to find out who knows who. Maybe a friend in one circle can help you build stronger connections in a network you're looking to break into.
Another one to check out is your FB network. And I've got sad news for you here. It used to be a lot easier to map connections but FB made a change to their API in early 2015 that doesn't allow APIs to pull data on your friends. XX It was SO much easier before! But do not fear, you can do two things:
- Manually go through FB friends: Tedious, I know. You can either look through your friend list on FB or you can download the data. How do you download your Facebook friends? First, make sure you are logged in to your Facebook Account. Click on the “Account” down arrow at the top right portion of your screen. This will open more options including “Settings”. Select that. The "General Account Settings" page will pull up and they've hidden it here! At the bottom of the list of your info (username/email/name/etc), in very small print, there is a “Download a Copy of your Facebook data.” link. Here's what my graph looks like.
- If you're super tech savvy (or up for a challenge): Here's a good tutorial from Lincurio.us that will walk you through how to take your data and visualize it. Here's mine:
Zooming in allows me to find smaller groups within groups—like my music class friends from college or my brother's DJ friends. My unlabeled circles on the bottom are small but could be contact points for introductions into certain groups.
Since a travel niche can be a certain destination, this will help uncover any themes in what type of destinations you like.
- Of the places you've been, what are your favorites?
- What places are you dying to see?
- What do the destinations you listed above have in common? (e.g. castles, weather, good food)
Since we're all travel lovers, this one can get long. If it does, don't worry. Write them all down now and you can go back and group them into common themes later.
Type of Travel Column
This one is a bit harder to explain. I like to think of it as the icing on the cake. It's just another way to discover what type of travel you enjoy and add that as an element to your niche. Consider these questions:
- Is there a particular demographic you'd like to sell to? (e.g. families/groups, seniors, music lovers)
- What price tag would you feel comfortable selling? On this one, don't be afraid to push your comfort zone. Many agents make the mistake of pushing their spending habits on their clients. (e.g. luxury, bargain)
- What type of travel do you enjoy? (e.g. adventure, all-inclusive, tours, groups, independent)
Whew! You're done. Time to take a little break. Come back in 2 days with a fresh mind and run through it again—you'll be surprised what a few days of sitting on it can do for new ideas.
Connecting the Dots to Find Your Travel Niche
Now that you've got your list you're going to take a look and circle the top 3 hobbies and top 3 destinations you're most passionate about. Don't worry if you have more or less, you can always adjust this next step to work with your chosen hobbies/destinations.
On page 2 of the Finding Your Travel Niche Worksheet, we'll be focusing on actual niche possibilities. Typically, they will come from one of your hobbies and/or destinations. We've created a nice little template on page 2 for you to put your top hobbies and destinations. Each hobby and destination you circled gets its own box. You'll be filling in each box with relevant list items that you have on page 1.
I found it easiest (and more fun!) to cut out the boxes so I could easily move them around. Specifically, I would take one box at a time to work on, place it on page 1 and go down my lists to see which items fit with that box's hobby or destination. If you're working on a hobby, take a look at the Destinations column first. If your box is for a destination, start with the hobby column.
To start, you're looking for connections between your columns. The common factor between those columns is they're all driven by some sort of passion—a must to be successful. Write down the topics that fit together well in your Niche Possibilities boxes.
Warning: Some of your topics may just never pan out. You can always come back if inspiration strikes on something you thought was a dead end. For me, I could not think of a way to incorporate my love of dogs into a travel niche I would enjoy. Finding dog-friendly hotels around the US or learning the rules of moving dogs around? No thanks.
Narrowing it Down Even Further
Once you've put together some possibilities from your hobbies and destinations columns, you're going to add your travel type column into the mix. This narrows the funnel even more. Does your current list of hobbies/destination groupings fit into a type of travel you want to sell? For instance, my ski hobby and cold weather destinations fits well with my love of adventure and group travel.
If you can't find an obvious fit, look for a way to customize it to fit your passions or set it aside.
One last thing. Don't feel that you can only pick one item from each column. You can mix and match with multiple topics from each column to create your travel niche. You could have adventure travel for groups and singles to a certain destination. Or trips for women-only to multiple destinations. It's up to you.
The Final Test
Your possibilities should be looking great. Mouth-watering, actually. Now the final test to see if this is a realistic possibility is to think about how easy it's going to be to find clients. You want to find out if you have an existing network to tap into. So let's take a look at your network column.
The hope is that since your circles in life are usually based on common interests, you'll have some networks already in place that see you as the expert for your niche or participate in your hobby with you.
If you do find some networks that work, write them in the box.
If you don't have a network, all is not lost. Having an existing network helps tremendously but not having one shouldn't deter you. Brainstorm ways you can break into that niche's target market. Don't forget to check the InMap and Facebook Map we discussed above to find people that may be able to open up doors for you.
As I started filling in the boxes I would think of other ideas that weren't originally on my lists but I thought would really fit in well with that box. Don't be afraid to add them! That's the best part of brainstorming, you never know where it's going to lead!
This worksheet should have left you with a decent list of travel niche possibilities. And not just any travel niches, but well thought out niches that fit your personality and that you believe in. If you had a really hard time narrowing your list down to just 3 hobbies and 3 destinations, or maybe you had 5 destinations that most interested you, don't worry. Print off as many copies of page 2 as you need but remember, the point of this exercise is to narrow it down to those you are most passionate about!
Next up, you need to sit down and decide which travel niches are most feasible, work with your lifestyle, and start doing some competitive intelligence! Maybe it's time to choose a travel agency name? Or learn more about starting a travel agency from home?
Congrats—you made it through! I hope I encouraged you to find a travel niche for your travel agency and led you through how to find one you love. When starting up, it's easy to fall prey to the "I'll take any booking I can get" mentality and avoid a niche. Start out strong and know exactly what your business is and where you want to go with it. Good luck and let me know what travel niche you end up with! Find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
Photo Credit: Jniceliem