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Incentivizing Cruise Clients: Good or Evil?

April 24, 2013 By: Susan Young


Drew Daly, VP sales performance, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.
Drew Daly, VP sales performance, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.

Agents know they can tap into many creative incentives to both retain customers and secure referral business. Yet, should they?

Many agents shy away from putting a referral incentive together because of the perceived cost involved, says Drew Daly, vice president of sales performance, CruiseOne ( and Cruises Inc. (, and Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion (, says incentives can work, but they strongly recommend agents focus more on soft incentives versus any hard dollar spend.

“For instance, an agent’s quality of service is the foundation for why someone will refer business to them,” Daly notes. “A person genuinely wants their friends and family to have the same experience they had with the agent.”

He says the best referral incentive is recognition to the customer who referred the business. So say “thank you” and tell them you greatly appreciate their business and support.

Daly suggests small travel gifts or logo items that reflect your agency brand – so as the customer uses his or her free gift you reach even more potential customers.

Just keep in mind that if the relationship is established based on a “what’s in it for me” mindset—then the relationship will only last so long.

Friedman says she likes to think of an incentive as simply a token of appreciation – such as a hand written note or a small gift card: “The key is to convey just how much you appreciate them.”

Michelle Fee, president and CEO, Cruise Planners (, advocates a couple of programs to generate referrals. One is to offer a reward (gift card) to those clients that refer potential cruisers.

Or, she says, if you have a few cabins booked on a particular ship/itinerary, let your customers know that they will receive additional amenities if they refer a friend. You can use the group amenities as well as the tour conductor berth to offset costs.


Michelle Fee, president and CEO, Cruise Planners
Michelle Fee, president and CEO, Cruise Planners

She also says that clients like immediate gratification, so Cruise Planners suggests to its franchisees to do any incentive at the time of deposit.

The philosophy is this, Fee says: “If you were to advertise, there is a cost of doing business… its much cheaper to incentify for a referral because you are only paying on ‘booked travel.’ People are more apt to refer you if they are appreciated.”

There are pitfalls with any incentive, though. Edie Bornstein, senior vice president – sales and marketing, Azamara Club Cruises ( issues this advice: “A referral is the biggest compliment you can receive and you don’t want to build your business by fishing for compliments. You want to build business by being the best travel agent possible.”

So Bornstein advocates a special phone call, note or bottle of wine as an incentive, not an expensive gift. Why? She says agents then may set an expectation within the client's mind for future travel bookings. Customers will expect more and more.

If you do choose to incentivize your clients with expensive gifts or perks, be prepared to “perpetually offer value-adds such as these, which may cheapen the value that you are providing,” says Bornstein.

It’s sad, our experts agree, but most businesses simply don’t express gratitude to their customers in a personal way. That can be the best gift of all - and help protect and maintain your relationship with the client.

“Agents should be the anomaly in the marketplace and deliver exceptional personal service,” Daly says. “When done genuinely, customers will naturally refer people to them.”

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About the Author

Susan Young
A veteran of 100-plus cruises, Susan J. Young, is senior contributing editor for cruises – covering ocean, river and niche cruises for Travel Agent and

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By Susan Young | April 24, 2013
If you have great cruise clients you wish to retain, or you're seeking more new ones, should your agency entice clients with incentives? Several top cruise industry executives provide their feedback and tips about playing the incentive card.