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Travel Market Article (continued)

Her luck didn’t end there. One of the many people who read the article was a gentleman in England who ran a Web site called AfricanSafariJournals.com. He contacted Ebright and asked if she would be interested in getting involved with his site. Ebright writes trip journals for each of her visits to Africa, so she sent him one of her journals and he put it up on the site.

These journals have now become one of her main marketing tools. The itineraries outlined in the journals catch the attention of potential clients who then contact Ebright. When she hears from these prospects she often sends another journal, and lets them know she has more, detailing other itineraries.

“My journals sell my trips,” she told TMR.

However, Ebright added that many of the leads from AfricanSafariJournals.com do not pan out. In fact, most of her business comes through referrals and word of mouth.

Everyone Wants a Specialist

Although Ebright Travel is a full-service agency, it is not marketed as such. Ebright emphasizes her specialty every chance she gets. Her Web site, business cards, stationary all denote her specialty.

“Every e-mail I send out has my contact information and ‘African Safari Specialist’ under it. My Web site is totally devoted to Africa. You won’t see a cruise or a tour or anything except Africa, unless I tell you how to look for it,” she said.

Ebright told Travel Market Report that this kind of niche branding is absolutely essential to building one’s reputation as a specialist. Customers are looking for specialists, she stressed.

“Because of the Internet, people are so sophisticated. They want somebody who’s been there, done that, and knows the ins and outs. If they didn’t need a specialist, they could book their travel on their own,” she noted.

This need is particularly true for African travel; Africa is so vast and there are so many choices, Ebright said. New clients call her all the time and tell her they thought they could plan their safari themselves but quickly realized they couldn’t. It’s virtually impossible to differentiate between all the different safari camps on the Internet.

Once her clients have experienced her Africa trips, they frequently ask her to arrange their other travel.

“Many clients are now my clients for life because of the way I did their Africa trip for them. Particularly luxury clients…and those are really the ones that everyone wants,” she said.

Travel Market Report asked Ebright how she is able to offer the same level of detail when planning trips to destinations in which she does not specialize.

“It’s not easy,” she said, but she tries to pick supplier companies that are sister companies to ones she uses in Africa, or companies that offer packages in several destinations. That way she is already familiar with the quality of product they deliver.

For instance, if asked to plan a trip to Australia, Ebright will use Swain, which is owned by the same company that owns African Travel, a tour operator she uses for her African itineraries. She already knows the tours will be customized to her client’s specific needs and that “every I is dotted and every T crossed.”

Ebright, a member of Ensemble Travel Group, also told TMR she is conscientious about booking with Ensemble’s preferred suppliers because she feels secure in recommending these companies to her clients.

Selling African travel is extremely lucrative, Ebright said, noting that travel to Africa is not cheap. It takes $2,000 just to get there. African travel also draws lots of luxury clients. Many of her clients typically spend upwards of $20,000 per person for their travel.

However, because the destination is so expensive it is vulnerable to economic recessions.

“My business has been down this year. These are luxury trips, and a luxury trip is the one thing you don’t need in a recession.” Ebright told TMR.

Though her business mix remains 80% to 85% Africa travel, she has not had as much overall business this year as she’s had in years past. Despite the dip in business, Ebright herself is as busy as ever, and is looking to bring in outside agents to expand the agency’s cruise and tour business.

“I do think I need more diversification but I don’t have the time to do anything but Africa myself.”

Regardless of her niche’s vulnerability to the economy, Ebright told TMR Ebright Travel would never have been as successful as it’s been without it.