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Cruising to Profits: The Trade Assessess National Cruise Vacation WeekNovember 4, 2011 By: Susan Young
Agents and Agency Groups Assess Sales, Deals and Results
|Grand Turk// Photo by Susan. J Young|
Now that Cruise Lines International Association’s “National Cruise Vacation Week” (NCVW) promotional sales event is over, what’s the trade's assessment of results?
Travel Agent asked more than a dozen agents and agency group leaders for their feedback. We posed these questions: What did your agency do to promote, and was it effective? How were sales? How would you characterize the quality of the deals? What was different this year versus last? And what were your overall results?
Here’s a sampling of trade feedback.
Michelle Fee, Cruise Planners’ co-founder and CEO, says her group “definitely saw a spike in business” during the NCVW event. “We always make a big deal about this event and wrap our marketing arms around it each year,” said Fee, noting “this year was no exception.” She said the home office pushed forward with a campaign that included a direct mail piece, Web site banners, and two weeks of e-mails to past customers letting them know about the sales.
Fee says Cruise Planners agents were ready. Her headquarters office conducted a webinar encouraging agents to do local events. The Cruise Planners’ marketing team also created individual flyers and invitations to help franchise owners boost their sales.”
From the numbers being reported in to headquarters, “it worked,” stressed Fee.
What could have been done better? “I think the biggest mistake some agents make is not getting the word out to their customers,” Fee says. She believes customers want and need to know when it’s the best time to buy.
“It’s the only time each year where all cruise lines are competing with special promotions at the same time to drive the customer to the best deal for their travel needs,” she says.
Sabine Harris, ECC, a Cruise Planners agent from Tampa, Fla., had a few more cruise sales than last year, but her dilemma is that many clients are not booking as far out as they usually do. Tampa's enonomy is still struggling.
What’s her assessment of the quality of the cruise deals this year? “I like that many of the cruise lines have offered a reduced deposit, especially if you [as an agent] have a family of four,” Harris says. “That has helped me with a few bookings this year.”
Harris said she promoted by sending e-mails to her regular clients to let them know what was going on, and she got a few bites. Still, she says many had just booked a cruise already or just weren’t ready to commit for their 2012 vacation.
“It may have to do with the economy, but my sales are just okay not great,” Harris reports.
Another Tampa area agent, Kelley Hardesty Fulmer, owner, Be The Tourist Travel Agency, reports, “I had a good week.” She began alerting her clients six weeks prior to the actual cruise promotion week.
Then, as the promotion neared, she reminded clients more frequently about the upcoming deals, telling them to always plan ahead. She says she focused on messages that appealed to those interested in summer vacation and spring break travel.
But Fulmer says that while her sales were good, she was disappointed that some of the major lines did not offer reduced deposits or only offered sales on the first quarter of 2012 sailings. “What would also be awesome is if they allowed their onboard credit promotions to be combined with either group amenities or past guest rewards of onboard credits,” she says.
Yet, Fulmer is realistic: “I know that the cruise lines have to be strategic and [they] have a bottom line to meet as well so perhaps that is all they can offer in this soft economy.”
|Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.|
From the perspective of Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., the week was “very strong.” Wall said his agents seemed to be better prepared this year than last.
The cruise lines also rallied around the promotional week with proactive offers, communications pieces and advanced agent training, he notes. “Additionally, there was a longer selling period this year, which provided all of us an even better opportunity for success,” he stressed.
Also helping was that the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. National Conference was the week prior to the big promotional week. “Thus, we were able to really educate our agents first-hand about the promotions that were planned for the following week,” he says.
While Wall believes cruise line offers and deals were better than last year’s, he attributes much of the sales week’s overall success to the increased level of customer engagement by his groups’ agents. “That is what likely made the biggest impact,” Wall emphasizes.
He also said the two agency groups promoted the CLIA event prominently via an e-mail marketing campaign, which went directly to the agents’ customers on Monday and Friday of the sales week with a strong call to action.
“Additionally, we invested in promotion search terms with Google to drive interested travelers to our sites, in order to learn more about National Cruise Vacation Week,” he notes. CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. also partnered with the Dunhill Travel website to promote a specific partner’s sailings. And agents themselves received multiple communications.
Wall says the average selling price per cruise during this year's promotional period was higher than it was last year. In fact, it was up 14 percent overall.
“Part of this is due to the fact that the average selling price has been higher all year long,” he said, but added that “the offers were incredibly strong this year and as a result, consumers were more likely to buy up.”
Travel Agent would like to know: What was your experience during National Cruise Vacation Week? Did your sales take off or stay grounded? What did you think of the quality of the supplier deals? What would you like to see the lines do next year?
Tell us about your experiences in our dedicated Agent Nation discussion thread.