Selling cruises is not just about the destination or the ship. Don’t overlook “the experience.” Enrichment is one way to ignite passion in clients. And that could help you close the sale.
Holland America Line (the Noordam is shown here in Gibraltar) is adding Exploration Teams onboard its ships to educate and entertain guests
Dave Stockert, director of sales training, Holland America Line, began selling cruises 25 years ago. Back then, “we had to beat out jewelry, the new car [or other big ticket items] just to get someone to go,” says Stockert. “We sold the entertainment value, the good food and a chance to visit ports.” He says agents and lines were successful at doing that and the cruise business grew at 10 percent a year for many years.
“However, we are now at a point in the development of where that old sales pitch is not enough,” Stockert stresses. “Cruise passengers today are saying they want more. They want to be fulfilled, have a learning experience, relax, expand horizons or be enriched.”
By incorporating enrichment options and “the experience” within your sales pitch, you just might catch the interest of a client who’s a foodie or cultural buff. Clients love to be thought of as exploratory travelers or adventurers. Foster that image. Yes, talk about where to go and how to get there, but also immerse the client in the total experience as part of your sales pitch.
Jeffrey Anderson, vice president of marketing, America’s Vacation Center, believes that “enrichment opportunities can be a valuable sales tool if you are able to link them to the destination, further enhancing the destination or the [cruise] product with these added experiences.” When pitching enrichment, he urges agents to look for clients who are well traveled, well educated and further along in life than the average cruise traveler.
The choices are endless. Clients might learn a new computer skill, impress friends by learning how to plan a party from an onboard party planner, or participate in a book club. And, “you can learn about history and culture of the ports you visit,” says Stockert.
How Do You Plan an Itinerary?
Most lines have robust enrichment programs. Talk with them about their options, training and marketing assistance. Ask the director of sales and marketing to help you create a marketing piece or review marketing plan elements that will help you sell to a particular clientele with a special interest.
Lee Robinson, vice president of field sales, Cunard Line and Princess Cruises, says cruise lines dedicate sizable resources to developing onboard lectures, classes and shore trips. Enrichment offerings allow guests to come away from the cruise feeling like they’ve accomplished something, he believes, whether it’s a new hobby or knowing the history and culture of the destination.
To build groups around enrichment, Robinson urges agents to look to local museums and cultural centers. “These are wonderful places to identify groups, such as an astronomy club that may be interested in stargazing on a cruise,” Robinson says. “Plus, these groups are located right in your backyard and may be an untapped revenue resource.”
When selling enrichment, focus on the complete onboard experience, recommends Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president of sales, Celebrity and Azamara Cruises. Enrichment doesn’t have to be dry and boring, say all our experts. Look for programs that focus on “edu-tainment” and appeal to multiple generations of a family that might be cruising together. “This is a terrific selling point,” says Ritzenthaler.
A pre- or post-cruise tour can enrich a client's experience even more; for example, Alaska's Denali National Park thrills cruisers with glimpses of wildlife
For example, in Alaska, Celebrity tries to have a naturalist on every sailing, so adults and kids alike learn about the flora, fauna, geography and history of the region. Kids who participate in Celebrity’s youth program, presented in partnership with LeapFrog School, not only learn about the region, but do so in fun ways.
Holland America Line is now adding new Exploration Teams onboard its ships. Comprised of event staff with niche expertise ranging from technology to travel, party planning to dancing, the new program will offer guests a menu of “edu-tainment” programs; on cruises of 12 days or more, a book club leader will join the team.
Whatever program the lines offer, use your database. Match enrichment opportunities with your clients’ interests, then let clients know how they may tap into these experiences, many of which offer an emotional connection or a sense of adventure. Clients might take a private MIG flight in Russia with Crystal Cruises or book a Bob Marley-focused, reggae-immersion shore trip in Jamaica with Carnival Cruise Lines.
Share the experience and the passion for such programs with your clients. Use photos and information about a past program to add authenticity and color, but showcase the upcoming dates that deliver a similar experience. Offer an enrichment evening at your agency, detailing all the options.
For example, do you have maritime or space buffs as clients? “Our transatlantic sailings often feature multiple speakers with expertise in nautical-themed topics, such as maritime history,” notes Ritzenthaler. “We’ve also had some incredibly interesting astronauts on our ships, most recently Walt Cunningham on Celebrity Solstice; he was part of the Apollo launch and talked about that experience. He also shared photos of the view from space.”
Lectures and cooking programs onboard are a huge draw with today’s culinary-minded guests. For example, Oceania Cruises will host a guest celebrity lecture by Jacques Pépin, best-selling author and renowned master chef, on the April 9 sailing of Regatta from Barcelona to Istanbul. Create a calendar of lectures by experts in a wide range of interests and from multiple lines. Include this calendar in a promotional e-mail or client newsletter.
Many premium and luxury lines field cultural, art, wine and cuisine programs. Silversea Cruises offers onboard wine programs, as well as wine tours ashore with lunch at top-of-the-line restaurants in such wine regions as Tuscany and Bordeaux. Silversea is also adding a new series of cooking tours in France featuring guest chefs.
Help clients focus their attention on shore options that complete the overall experience. Cruise lines are constantly enhancing the quality of guests’ time ashore with such options as more overnights in port, exclusive tours and razzle-dazzle technology. For example, Regent Seven Seas is adding personal wireless headsets for guest use on more than 200 shore tours worldwide.
Enrichment often means a chance to meet local people, as Celebrity Cruises' guests did with this Peruvian woman on a South America shore trip
If clients are enriched and come back raving, you’ll likely get them to book again on another trip. So encourage guests on South American cruise itineraries, for example, to book such add-ons as an Amazon lodge eco-adventure; an immersion into Chile’s wine culture; or a side trip to explore Antarctica.
“I believe travel agents can use enrichment to close more sales,” explains Stockert. “I hear industry leaders say that agents need to sell with passion. A chance to be enriched on a cruise will add a new way to sell with passion. A potential cruiser will come alive if the agent explains the enrichment opportunities on today’s cruises.” Stockert cruised on Eurodam last summer in Europe and observed how many guests enjoyed learning about the Vikings before a Scandinavian port call.
Separately, Stockert says one guest couldn’t wait to text his grandson after learning how to do so during an onboard technology program. “I could see the cruise coming alive for passengers with activities that were more meaningful than just enjoying good food and shows,” says Stockert. “When you come home from a cruise where you had a chance to be enriched, you are a different person. This is something agents can sell.”