Cruise RoundtableSeptember 27, 2010 By: Ruthanne Terrero Travel Agent
Costa Cruises’ Maurice Zarmati got his counterparts thinking when he said everyone—including himself and a number of people in the room—could do a better job with agents
Ruthanne Terrero: Do you feel that agents are taking advantage of the opportunities that you have available to them? Do you feel they could be reaching out to you more to do co-op, client events and those types of things?
Rick Sasso, MSC Cruises:
We are lucky that technology has allowed home-based agents to have information at their fingertips. You can communicate with them and feed phone calls to them. But there are a lot of agents still afraid of technology. There are a lot who don’t look for new business. Here’s a quick example. We all do themed cruises from time to time. If I were an agent anywhere in the U.S. and there was a Big Band cruise or a baseball-themed cruise, I would be looking around my neighborhood to see who I was going to get to sponsor the group for that theme because, obviously, there is a Big Band station on the radio somewhere in that market. So, agents need to be more proactive, use the technology and, more than anything else, they need to close more sales. They have opportunities but they don’t close enough of those opportunities. And if they do get the education and learn the way we know how the sale operates, we can close the sale five times greater than the average person. We need to make that average person, that home-based agent, be as knowledgeable and enthusiastic about closing a sale as we are. That way they will close more sales and improve their bottom line.
Bob Sharak, CLIA:
We launched The World’s Largest Cruise Night—the next edition is coming up this October—and It’s the North American platform for promotional events. That brings together the cruise lines and agents to offer great deals on the lines. We market and help do a lot of PR. Last year, we had over 1,300 agencies conducting physical events on that one evening. Fifty thousand consumers came through their doors and we had 2,800 online promotions happening. And the agents will accept the fact that they sold $45 million in cruises during that promotional period from the agency survey. So, part of what we are looking at is how do we help engage them and provide them with a prepackaged promotion? Once they do it, they find this terribly successful and it goes across again. And we had luxury events where high-end car dealerships were selling big-ticket items. So another way we are looking at it is how does CLIA help connect the dots and engage the agents and the cruise lines for their benefit.
Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean:
I don’t believe it is one size fits itself. I don’t think to be successful, everyone has to be spending co-op dollars. There are different models and techniques to be successful. And that’s the attractiveness of our industry—that different models exist and can be widely successful. I talk to travel agents every day, they call me because I offer my phone number and my e-mail ID and say, “Give me a call and I will call you back and we will talk about how you can build your business.” What I find is that a lot of newbies in this business have the enthusiasm, passion and drive to succeed but don’t always know how to get the customers. They’ve gone through the education, gained the product knowledge and now it’s like, “Okay, what next? How do I get out there?” That’s when we can help through our local BDMs. I talked to an agent yesterday and asked her about her interests and passions. Turns out she is a breast cancer survivor and wanted to do a fund-raising event with the Susan G. Komen Foundation. I said, “Okay, now we have the idea, how are we going to explore that and get the platform to get the customers?” So we talked about engaging a private school where you can get students to do community service hours, have the event there and get word out to parents at the school.
There are all kinds of ways to be successful in this business. Sometimes agents just need someone to guide them on how to find the customer.
They have got the knowledge, passion and the enthusiasm. All they need now is to get the sales. At the end of the day, this is a volume business. To be successful and to make money, you need to have revenue. Now, it’s not necessarily revenue—$399 cruises—you can cherry-pick the demographic or the kind of cruise vacation you want to sell. But if you are a realtor and sell one or two houses a year, you are not going to make a living. It’s a hobby. If you want to be successful, you have to be in this game, and sell in volume to enjoy the perks and benefits of what the business is all about. That’s travel!
Maurice Zarmati, Costa Cruises:
We sat with the agency community, selected people and taught them the step-by-step process [of selling]. And when they came out of the session, they complimented us for telling them it’s not that difficult once there is a game plan. It’s not that difficult to take inventory of where you failed and how to fix it. If you do fail because you don’t get the prospect, that’s okay, there are 10 others behind them.
Ken Watson, COO, Silversea:
We are involved with a number of different agencies in different parts of the U.S. and we see things in different locations that many times the agents do not see because they are just not there. If we act as an information hub, providing information on how someone else is doing something that could help them out and if we are a good advisor to the agent, then they are going to benefit from that. I always tell our salespeople to be an information source to our travel community, because if we can help them, we will benefit all as a result.
Think about what’s happened during this recession; during the last four or five years, think of the number of people that have come into the travel agent community, people who have never been in this business before and yet, are extremely successful. That gives me hope that we have a very vibrant and growing industry. If we can take the best practices from the people that have entered the industry to help the industry on a whole, we are all going to benefit.
Larry Pimentel, Azamara Club Cruises:
I love hearing about [Travel Agent magazine] doing things for the 40-and-under group because I’ve myself been teaching them classes at NYU in New York at the Stern Business School for many years. Invariably in every class, I ask these really bright hospitality and business students, how many of them are considering being a retail travel agent? And I have never seen a hand go up. We are all getting older and I don’t see enough young people coming into the business. I believe that’s a significant challenge to the industry and I think there are, perhaps, lots of reasons but it’s terribly concerning. There used to be many travel schools around the country years ago that have vanished. I just don’t see young people coming into the sector.