On the Downward Slope: 10 Quick Tips for Increasing 2017 Cruise Sales

Carnival Triumph New Orleans Dock Carnival Cruise Line Editorial Use Only Copyright by Carnival Cruise Line
U.S. home ports create great opportunities to entice first-timers onboard a cruise ship, such as the Carnival Triumph shown here docked in New Orleans. // Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line.

As 2017 begins its downward journey, with just five months until Auld Lang Syne is played on December 31, travel agencies are making a strong dash for more revenue. Here are 10 tips from travel industry experts to help increase your cruise sales by the dawn of 2018. 

1.  Suggest a Family Holiday Cruise: Focus on your clients with school age children. “Contact them about the deals for Christmas travel,” says Betsy Geiser, vice president, Uniglobe Travel Center, Irvine, CA. “It’s a great reason to reach out to your clients and get them thinking about that next trip.  Also, it could help you finish strong for 2017.”

Cruise lines have robust family programs including supervised children's clubs, shore trips for kids, babysitting services, character visits, children's pools, special entertainment, teen clubs and more. Check out our story published earlier this year on what's new in family cruising. 

And think big. Family travel often means more than simply mom, dad and the kids. Multi-generational groups are "hot" and bring good commission benefits. Your clients may wish to take along any or all of the following: grandma, grandpa, their great grandparents, aunts, uncles, adult siblings, adult cousins and those relatives' children or close friends.

“I've seen multi-generation families booking more holiday getaways this year, both cruise and land,” says Debby Hughes, franchise owner and vacation specialist, Dream Vacations, Big Bear City, CA. 

“While they are behind the curve, I have clients who are just now thinking of Christmas-time travel,” notes Jason Armstrong, franchise owner and vacation specialist, Dream Vacations, Spokane, WA, so he's focusing on booking those holiday cruises.   

2. Fulfill Bucket Lists: It's advantageous to “review those clients that have contacted you in the last six months to determine who may be a good cruise prospect for follow-up with specific cruise ideas such as a bucket-list Panama Canal or Cuba cruise," suggests Eva Jenner, vice president, North America sales, Holland America Line. 

Bucket lists certainly have the potential to motivate clients who might not be thinking of a trip. Customers simply may not be able to resist if you come up with the right trip to meet their needs, budget, travel style and experiential "musts." So dig into your data base for bucket list opportunities. Then contact clients with tidbits and ideas for future cruises that match up. 

While bucket lists typically focus on destinations, they can also involve VIPs. Take a deep look at the interests of prospective cruise clients; those may match up well with VIP sailings, enrichment lecturers expected to be onboard or themed cruises with a celebrity host.

Jenner says such sailings as her line's “O, The Oprah Magazine Adventure of Your Life” voyages and culinary-themed cruises with additional television chefs from America’s Test Kitchen are the kind of options that can tap into a client's desire to sail on a program designed for guests who are fans. 

Uniworld River Cruise

3. Look to Global Rivers:  The growing popularity of river cruising, plus improvements in the quality of river cruise vessels and luxury experiences onboard has meant that luxury travel advisors like Ruth Turpin, owner, Cruises Etc., Fort Worth, TX, are putting more effort into obtaining new clients whom they believe would love river cruising.

River cruise options abound for every guest style, taste, region of interest and itinerary. Shown above is one of the posh suites on Uniworld in Europe, for example.   

“We have been able to convert a number of clients who mainly did land tours and FITs to river cruises,” Turpin says. “As our goal for 2017 was obtaining new clients, river cruising will definitely be something we focus on for the rest of the year.”

River cruise products are also highly inclusive, so commission is based on a higher starting point than a typical ocean cruise. Plus, many new river itineraries and river vessels are creating marketplace buzz. 

4. Focus on Alaska and Hawaii: Focusing on the United States has the potential to draw in clients concerned about the hassles of international travel. Yet, they still may desire something more exotic than the typical beach or mountain vacation in the "Lower 48." So, why not suggest Alaska or Hawaii?

In addition to some last-minute Alaska bookings, Hughes says she's seeing seeing more requests for Hawaii cruises and travel in the last month than she had ever seen before. “I plan to take advantage of this trend and direct some social media marketing in that direction,” says Hughes. 

Alaska Dream Cruises Chichigof Dream

Big ships, small ships and expedition ships ply Alaska waters, with many lines such as Un-Cruise Adventures increasing their presence or adding new itineraries this year and in 2018. Shown above is Alaskan Dream Cruises' Chichagof Dream

5. Tap into the Longer Booking Window:  "Your clients are booking further out these days so it’s time to go through your client and prospect lists and take some proactive moves to get them booking their 2018 summer vacations now," says Adolfo Perez,vice president of trade sales and marketing, Carnival Cruise Line.

Cruise demand is at an all time high so Perez says the earlier agents can get their clients to book, the better value these customers will get. "Go a little 'old school' and pick the phone and start calling your clients today," Perez says. "A phone call is more personal than an e-mail and it can be much more effective."

6. Create a Portfolio of Client Events: A strong believer in customer-focused seminars and sales events is Mark Comfort, owner, Cruise Holidays of Kansas City, Kansas City, MO. He plans to tap those events to increase sales this year and build advance bookings for 2018.

For example, this month he will host a river cruise seminar and sale with four river cruise lines participating. More than 110 clients have sent RSVPs so he expects a good crowd.   

In August, his agency is planning an “On Stage Alaska” event sponsored by Holland America to bring in Alaska bookings for next year. In October, the business will host its annual "Vacation Extravaganza Seminar and Sale."

Comfort stresses: “This is our primary way to get extra business, and we find that these events are well received."

7. Market Your Socks Off: Marketing shouldn’t be an on-off thing. Spread things out throughout the year, say our experts. And with less than six months in the year, increase marketing to secure more revenue.

Yes, there are peaks and valleys of marketing, but “we are consistently focused on meeting sales goals and have a robust marketing calendar throughout the entire year –  not just during peak booking seasons such as Wave, for example,” says Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales, Avoya Travel. 

To highlight a specific supplier, destination, or departure, Koepf says Avoya looks at whether there is a compelling offer for the consumer, what commission levels are, whether any incentives are being offered, what marketing and co-op funds are available and what the company’s goals are, plus the overall demand cycle for the product and other factors.

While he describes that as "a fairly complex algorithm for marketing efforts," all agencies can tap into similar factors in designing their own marketing program. 

8. Upsell by Painting the Picture: Upselling increases the value of the sale and commission for agents. Most importantly, though, it typically creates higher guest satisfaction as clients enjoy more perks and amenities.

Owner's Suite Oceania Cruises Sirena Living Room Copyright by Susan J Young Editorial Use Only

Shown above, the Owner's Suite on Oceania Cruises' Sirena offers plenty of room for entertaining. In chatting with clients about accommodations choices, be sure to paint the picture of the enhanced benefits of a balcony stateroom versus an inside cabin or a suite versus standard accommodations.

Talk about sitting on the balcony or larger veranda, having friends over for drinks or soaking in the scenic views as the ship sails out of a port at sunset.

Theresa Scalzitti, vice president, sales and marketing, Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, says to paint the picture of amenities in a suite with phrasing like this: “Imagine your butler unpacking your bags for you immediately allowing you to begin enjoying the ship. Don’t worry about standing in line to book your spa, dinner or excursions – your concierge or butler will do all of this for you.”

Scalzitti and other experts recently provided these and other tips for upselling in our recent luxury cruise focus. Separately, Tammie Richie, senior director of Avoya Mastermind, Avoya Travel, offered agents detailed tips in the “The Art of Upselling.”

9. Don’t Be a Stranger: Stay in touch. Don't let existing clients drift for months with no personal contact from you. The risk is losing that client forever. .

Vicki Freed, senior vice president, sales, trade support and service, Royal Caribbean International, says statistics show that show 3.5 out of five cruisers buy their next vacation from a different agency, not because of bad service but because of "indifference" by the original agency.

“I am staying in touch with past clients, reminding them of the vacation dreams they have expressed," Armstrong emphasizes. For clients who've booked cruises a year or more in advance, he also keeps in touch and building revenue by completing the packages with air, hotel and, in some cases, upgrading to suites.

Jack Fingerman, an independent vacation specialist, Cruises Inc., Mount Laurel, NJ, says, “we will ramp up sales by reaching out to past clients for feedback on when and where they would like to have their next vacation or getaway.” If it’s a cruise, he’ll find the best ship and itinerary for them, or if it’s a land resort, he’ll focus on destinations not visited in the past.

So make an effort to provide that personal touch – a point of contact, a simple “what’s new,” or an event invitation for clients. Pick up the phone and say, "just touching base to see how your summer is going" or to congratulate them about their kids' graduation, job promotion or spouse's retirement.  "The personal touch is what bonds clients to us," says Freed.

A rendering of Celebrity Edge's new Magic Carpet area, which moves up and down the side of the ship.

10. Tap into New Ships:  New ships clearly create marketplace excitement. Who wouldn't get excited about the new Magic Carpet platform cantilevered off the side of the new Celebrity Edge (a rendering provided by the line is shown above); the keel laying was earlier this summer and the ship will launch in December 2018.

"Cruise bookings are strong into next year, with several new ships on the horizon stirring up excitement,” says Hughes, who adds that the cruise lines have great marketing materials available for agents to use online and through direct mail.

So if clients love a particular line and a new ship is on the horizon, find a reason to chat about that. It just may entice clients to book prior to year’s end -- helping your sales totals. 

With just four and a half months to go in 2017, now is the time to ramp up your revenue -- getting a good start on 2018 bookings. 

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