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Selling Group Charters

June 18, 2009 By: Susan Young Travel Agent


SeaDream Yacht Club is working with agents to develop more family group charter sales

­As corporations c­ut back on company group incentive cruising, some small-ship and mega-yacht cruise lines are finding revenue opportunities with Mom, Dad, the kids and their extended families.

­Bob Lepisto, president of SeaDream Yacht­ Club, acknowledges that since the economic downturn last fall, “the corporate incentive charter business has taken a hit because of the AIG effect”—which is what happens when customers, shareholders or taxpayers turn their ire on firms buying what’s perceived as posh hotel or cushy cruise meetings.

As a result, Lepisto says, SeaDream’s corporate incentive business will drop from 30 to 35 percent of the line’s overall sales to about 18 to 20 percent for 2010. The line has turned many voyages targeted at the incentive market into voyages all agents may sell. It is also working to build the family group market business.

Lepisto says clever agents have been successful in bringing family groups onboard and in selling full-ship family group charters. One such agent is Michelle Forte, owner of Gulfshore Travel in Naples, Florida. She sold a full SeaDream charter to a family group in the fourth quarter of 2008. “The five-day cruise was a 60th birthday celebration for the client’s wife, and they invited their friends and family with more than 100 people onboard,” says Forte. Because SeaDream helped Forte select and tailor an itinerary with interesting ports of call and things to do, the client returned highly satisfied.

Though Forte declined to disclose the total commission, she noted that as commission is paid on an inclusive product, it’s good business.

How can you sell such a ship charter to family groups? Here’s some insight from Forte.

More Than a Booking: “We think of ourselves more as event planners than travel agents [in this context],” says Forte. Be prepared to assist your family group charter clients with air arrangements including, in some cases, the chartering of private planes.

Forte’s agency also brought in a well-known comedian and high-quality Broadway entertainment for that family group charter. She handled that through an entertainment booking agency. She also arranged for singers and a piano player to remain onboard for the entire cruise, and also planned and catered a cocktail party at one of the guests’ Caribbean residence.

Strongly Consider the Repeat Element: A full-ship charter is a lot of work but consider the annuity, says Forte. Her client who chartered the yacht for his wife’s birthday is going to be a definite repeater year after year. “He says [he wants to do this] every year for the rest of his life,” she says, noting that next year’s charter booking for the group is already under way.

Details Are Paramount: A high level of customized service is paramount in dealing with such events. “Everything I asked for [from SeaDream] was done,” says Forte, but adds that agents need to be committed before they start, and stay in control of every detail along the way.

“I had a baby the same week as my charter, so I sent somebody [representing the agency] onboard to be available to the group,” she notes. “It’s not just about setting up the trip and saying, ‘Oh, they’re now off on the cruise.’ You need to have somebody there to overlook things,” says Forte.

Customize for Satisfaction: Understand the client’s desires. With a small-ship or mega-yacht charter, agents don’t have to accept the same itinerary that clients might book individually on a scheduled cruise. If they love nightlife and want to stay in port until the wee hours of morning, that can be arranged.

Schedules are customized to the client’s needs. On SeaDream, for example, clients will enjoy eclectic ports and, often, those that big ships can’t access. So, you as an agent can—with the line’s help—create a unique itinerary to fit the client’s specific needs.

Even shore trips can be customized. The line itself may assist with a specific shore charter. Or, agents might tap into the private shore excursions offered—with commission—by several groups. Also, tap into the cruise director’s skills, says Forte, noting that on SeaDream, the cruise director is the activity director, customizing choices to the group’s desires. Food and wine are very important to many clients. The agent may need to work with some lines to customize it. “The SeaDream food is so good, you don’t need to tweak it, but one night we did have a chef’s specialty dinner,” notes Forte.

Pick the Right Clients: For small-ship and yacht charters, “look for [clients with group members] in fairly good physical shape,” says Forte. She says navigating a small ship sometimes requires people to feel comfortable in smaller corridors, on staircases or in a smaller-than-normal elevator. “Clients will also be outside a lot, so find someone who is well-traveled, likes the small-ship feel, wants to feel that they are on their own personal yacht, someone that likes great food and service,” says Forte.


Passengers aboard SeaDream II enjoy a water scooter ride

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