Niche is where it’s at, with vanilla tours being left at the door.
At least that’s the word on the street according to McLachlan Tours’ general manager Peter Smith.
“There’s no doubt about it, in this world today as more and more travel is going online and becoming vanilla-ised and getting smaller and disappearing, the niche operator backs that trend because it can’t be done by the bigger guys,” Smith told Travel Weekly.
And with a large part of the travel industry now devoted to finding ‘new’ and ‘experiential’ journeys around the globe, Smith says being bigger isn’t always better.
“As a small to medium sized operator, you can be very personable,” he told TW.
“If you’re good at something, then specialise,” he added. “Whether it be river cruises or battlefield tourism, the key for specialist providers is to be able to adapt quickly to market demand, to think quickly and creatively and to focus wholly upon your target market, not trying to be everything to everyone.
“While we’re seeing consolidation in the market with larger players edging – or buying – out smaller outfits, niche providers who build loyal customer bases and display a deep knowledge of their specialist market are bucking the trend.”
The trend towards hard-working holidays is also growing, which means the holiday works harder by combining elements such as events, shows or experiences all within one holiday.
The popularity of multi-experience itineraries is corroborated by recent research in the ABTA Travel Trends Report, which indicates the latest top trend across the travel sector is “the ‘hard working holiday’.
“This is great news for wholesalers, such as McLachlan Tours, which can offer battlefield tours incorporated into an itinerary that also features city destinations, adventure and gastronomy, but not so great for providers who are still offering off the shelf, one size fits all packages of yesteryear,” Smith said.
Smith compared it to manoeuvring yourself through a minefield in a tinny compared to a big cargo ship – “you just can’t do it.”
And there’s something to be said for tour companies that can squeeze into more unique regions to give their customers more.
“With our Battlefield Tours, we encourage customers to tell us if they had family members from the war, we will do what we can to research where their family members fought or fell and remain,” Smith explained to TW.
“We’ve had many success stories where people couldn’t believe we were able to find their relatives and do that for them.”
In the weeks leading up to the Centenary anniversaries for World War One, Smith says it marks “a defining moment in our history as a country.”
“We have large groups going across to Gallipoli in two tours, one before Anzac Day, and one after, both with Anzac Day either at end or beginning of the journey,” he explained.
“We have half of our tours attending the actual service from the ballot draw, and half attending McLachlan’s own Anzac celebrations, with guests such as Ray Martin.”
All group tours are also escorted by expert historians in their field, designed by Mat McLachlan himself, who is one of Australia’s leading historians on various wars and battles.
Smith told TW that the next four years are full of centenary anniversaries, culminating in Remembrance Day in 2018 to mark the end of World War One.
“Watch this space if your clients have any interest in world war one, and seriously look at offering Battlefield tours as an add-on to something they might be doing anyway.”