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Grand VoyagesSeptember 18, 2012 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
|Voyages to Antiquity’s Aegean Odyssey sails past Mount Vesuvius in Italy.|
On a weeklong or shorter cruise, clients just start to relax and become immersed in the cruise lifestyle when the voyage is over all too soon. While a 100-plus-day World Cruise would be great, for many, it’s beyond their financial means. Others can’t get three or four months off from work or don’t want to spend quite that much time away from their children or grandchildren.
Enter the burgeoning portfolio of “Grand Voyages.” These are typically 25 to 45 days or so, some a bit longer, others a bit shorter. But who’s sailing on these long cruises? How can you tap into the revenue? Where do you find the right clients?
Denise Terkosky, an agent with Cruise One in Jacksonville, FL, seeks out retirees and clients celebrating a milestone anniversary, birthday or victory over a health crisis. She also tells fellow agents to look for “country collectors” or bucket-list travelers.
Similarly, Sue Thompson Steenhoven, owner of Point of Departure Travel, an independent affiliate of Avoya Travel/American Express, Chaska, MN, concentrates on retired clients who are interested in spending three, four or five weeks on a cruise: “They are typically already well-traveled and, at this stage in their life, they have more time and can often afford to take a longer cruise.”
Veteran cruise industry executive Mitchell Schlesinger, vice president, sales and marketing for Voyages to Antiquity, says it’s important for agents to track clients’ historical travel patterns and promote Grand Voyages to clients who have demonstrated the propensity to travel longer and spend the dollars that type of travel requires. Voyages to Antiquity’s Aegean Odyssey will operate new Grand Voyages of 30 to 43 days in the Far East next year.
|Crystal Symphony in Sydney Harbor, Australia.|
Those Asian voyages include such journeys as Bangkok to Singapore from February 1 to March 2; Singapore to Cairo, Egypt, from March 6 to April 7; Singapore to Istanbul, Turkey, from March 6 to April 17; plus the line’s first Grand Voyage offered in the Mediterranean, an “Ancient Wonders” 27-day sailing from Cairo to Athens, Greece; U.S. air departures for that latter voyage are March 30 and the cruise ends April 25.
Schlesinger says these voyages are excellent for an older demographic (60-80): “Older travelers prefer to be on the ship for longer periods of time. They like getting to know the other guests and especially the staff who provide more TLC [tender loving care].”
|Conviviality aboard Silversea’s Silver Wind.|
He says the voyage length also allows guests to experience more of Voyages to Antiquity’s ancient civilization lectures, history and cultural offerings. As a result, 40 percent of the line’s 2012-2013 Far East guests from North America are sailing back-to-back. Being attentive to these clients who have traveled extensively and are always seeking new experiences is crucial. Otherwise clients could jump ship. “This is the stage of ‘travel life’ where the commission dollars grow geometrically, but if agents do not nurture their clients over time they could lose them to other agencies,” says Schlesinger.
Schlesinger says that in 1995 some 35 million Americans were over the age of 70, a number that should double by 2020. By 2030, America will have more people over 80 than under 8. “This is THE burgeoning travel market that is looking for new and different travel experiences and they are fueling the growth of river and small-ship cruises,” says Schlesinger.
|Lounge onboard Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Voyager.|
A cyclical force is also at work, according to Greg Nacco, vice president of Cruise Specialists, a Virtuoso agency in Seattle. Half of his clients book a Grand Voyage or World Cruise each year. Others are on a two- to three-year cycle and a few make it an experience they splurge on every five years. “We also find there is some crossover within premium and luxury, whereby guests may go on Holland America every year, but will take a Crystal or Regent voyage every third year or so,” he says.
Holland America Line offers such Grand Voyages as a 46-day “Grand Mediterranean Voyage” on Prinsendam from Fort Lauderdale to Rome, departing March 14, 2013. It calls at such exotic ports as Casablanca, Morocco; Valletta, Malta; Ashdod (for Jerusalem), Israel; Kotor, Montenegro; and Istanbul.
|Greenhouse Spa onboard Holland America Line’s Prinsendam.|
Mark Kammerer, Holland America’s senior vice president of marketing and North American sales, says many Grand Voyage clients—with a 70 percent to 80 percent repeat rate—are drawn by the itineraries and the onboard camaraderie. In addition, Kammerer stresses that clients explore beyond the common tourist sights and receive access to secluded, off-the-beaten-path sites. Longer voyages also have onboard themed events and shore excursions designed for more seasoned travelers. To find clients, Kammerer says, “It all begins with your mailing list and one that is segmented well.”
Crystal Cruises has a 98-day “Australasia Grand Cruise” on Crystal Symphony from Auckland, New Zealand, to Los Angeles in 2013, but clients might instead combine several segments for a shorter—yet still robust—Grand Voyage. One option is to combine three segments for a five-week voyage departing March 7, 2013 from Singapore to Kobe, Japan.
Eric Graves, Crystal’s vice president of sales, says the best clients for such longer voyages are usually cruise veterans who understand the value of seeing many places with only having to unpack once and very minimal flying. “These clients are far more prevalent than one might think,” he says. Graves says cruise lines are working to assure that many itineraries don’t repeat ports, thus allowing customers to combine voyages easily.
“Crystal has a large number of back-to-back guests on virtually all of its departures,” Graves stresses. In the Mediterranean in 2013, Crystal will offer seven-, nine- and 12-day cruises, allowing guests to combine two or three voyages without port repetition.
|Crow’s Nest Lounge, Prinsendam.|
According to CruiseOne’s Terkosky, “Another major factor for many who choose a 25- to 35-day segment is the security and familiarity of the cruise lines’ accommodations and dining options at the end of the day.” Graves and others urge agents to talk to their luxury resort clients and stress the inclusive value of a luxury cruise with dining, entertainment, drinks and gratuities included in the fare; then show what a similar vacation would cost at a luxury resort.
Guests who book Silversea Cruises’ Grand Voyages are typically clients who have previously sailed back-to-back or combination voyages, says Kristian Anderson, vice president of sales for North America, who believes the appeal of such voyages is likely to continue unabated. “These voyages are all about cultural exploration, experiencing once-in-a-lifetime adventures, and having time to get to know your fellow travelers,” Anderson says.
Silversea offers numerous Grand Voyages including “Ancient Empires,” a 35-day Istanbul to Dubai, voyage departing October 31 on Silver Wind; it’s a combination of voyages 2234, 2235 and 2236.
Another factor helping agents entice clients onboard for longer voyages is connectivity. “Today, travelers have better access to cutting-edge communications innovations—such as Wi-Fi access, cell phones at sea and so on—that enable them to remain in touch with family, friends and business associates back home,” says Anderson, who notes that travelers are now more comfortable to venture away from their homes or offices for longer periods of time.
Pure and simple, “the appeal [of such voyages] is the time to relax and enjoy the experience the way we all wish we could travel; without rush or urgency,” says Randall Soy, senior vice president, sales for Regent Seven Seas Cruises. He also urges agents to seek out those with “a mind-set looking for wonder,” both among existing clients and any new prospects. Regent offers a 66-night sailing from Auckland to Beijing departing January 9, 2013 on Seven Seas Voyager.
A good approach for finding new Grand Voyages clients is to join an arts or cultural organization or volunteer for a museum charitable event. Soy says consumers who patronize museums and are seeking to visit “bucket list” sites make great prospects. CruiseOne’s Terkosky also says agents might network with financial planners to find Grand Voyage prospects.
Regent’s repeat rate for such longer voyages is even higher than its overall repeat rate, which is already “traditionally strong,” according to Soy. As others do, he points to the camaraderie and overall “sense of journey” guests develop, as they build relationships with fellow travelers and crew. Many stay in touch after the voyage is over.
These cruisers may also attract friends or family members as future cruisers. “A customer who can book on ‘Grand Voyage’ is likely to have friends to refer, and they also will book multiple cruises with me,” notes Point of Departure’s Steenhoven.
How should you promote? Soy believes e-mail is a good tool to broadly tease people about the experience, but cruise nights and face-to-face conversations are most effective. If you’ve heard clients wistfully talking about going to India, say “and here’s how you can sail with XYZ line to make your dreams come true,” showcasing a specific cruise product that addresses the client’s personal bucket list.
|Marco Polo dining room onboard Aegean Odyssey.|
Edie Bornstein, senior vice president of sales and marketing, Azamara Club Cruises, advises travel partners to talk to previous World Cruise guests and look for clients who have purchased around-the-world air fares. Retirement communities and country clubs are prime territory for such prospects. Ralph Santisteban of CruiseOne in Miami says he proactively approaches high-end retirement communities in Boca Raton and West Palm Beach, FL.
Agents might set up a travelogue night at a senior center or country club mixer, ask participants to bring a favorite photo from a past cruise or global trip as an icebreaker, and show a stunning cruise line video. Engage the audience, connect emotionally, paint a visual picture, and discuss dreams and enticing destinations. At the end, ask to see guests’ photos, share travel stories and provide cruise-specific details for potential prospects.
Stress the hassle-free perks and global scope of a Grand Voyage, says Bornstein. She emphasizes that such voyages allow travelers “to see many places without traveling through airports, without packing and unpacking and, most of all, with the opportunity to see many countries and destinations all in one trip.” Azamara has a 28-day Asian voyage departing February 20 from Singapore to Beijing; it combines two back-to-back cruises that offer multiple overnights and late-night stays.
Many lines offer fare savings for such back-to-back cruises. Azamara clients booking two or more such cruises can save themselves between $300 and $400 per segment off the total cruise fare. For example, three back-to-back sailings of nine days or more would result in a $1,200 saving.
To help close the sale, Bornstein recommends visuals such as Azamara’s “You’ll Love Where We Take You” video series. “Videos are terrific, especially good videos,” agrees Cruise Specialists’ Nacco, noting that such a vacation isn’t an impulsive purchase. He says such bookings take time, discussion and extras. Santisteban also recommends using videos, as well as a detailed explanation of the cruise product and geographic itinerary.
John Delaney, senior vice president of marketing and sales, Seabourn Cruise Line, stresses that “one of the most important things an agent can do to sell longer voyages is to simply have the confidence to ask. A client will surely not be offended that you think; they might be interested in the luxury of a long voyage and even if it’s the not the right time for them now, it will get them thinking about it.” In other words, plant the seed.
Seabourn has a new 25-day Norway-North Cape and Baltic voyage operated by Seabourn Sojourn from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Southampton, U.K. Departing July 30, 2013, this cruise includes Flaam, cruising of Sognefjord, Aalesund, Leknes on Lofoten Island, Trollfjord, Tromso, Honningsvaag on the North Cape, Olden, cruising of Nordfjord and Hjellefjord, Bergen, Stavanger, Copenhagen, Tallinn in Estonia, two days in St. Petersburg, Russia, Bornholm Island, Denmark’s Bornholm Island, Germany’s Kiel Canal, an overnight in Amsterdam, Ostend (for Bruges) in Belgium and Southampton.
Delaney says such longer voyages are an extension of the concept of travel as a reward—the way most people think of a cruise vacation. So he asks, “Why not a bigger reward?” Yet, the biggest reward, he says, is the luxury of time—for people to do the things they really want, to add chapters to their life stories and have cherished moments to talk about to family and friends.
With that in mind, “don’t fall into the trap of pigeonholing clients as long or short cruisers,” Delaney tells agents. Keep an open mind for opportunities. CruiseOne’s Terkosky seeks out small business owners who can work from anywhere and love to travel. And, “believe it or not, I have also met first-time cruisers on these [longer] journeys as well,” she says.
Our experts say clients often want different vacations at different times for different reasons. Says Crystal’s Graves: “This is where it’s really important for the agent to personalize the experience; ask your clients a lot of questions and then sell them on what you feel they will respond to.”
Cruise Specialists’ Nacco says his firm once completed an “Anatomy of a World Cruiser” review. “We saw many clients started off as a seven-day cruiser and, over the course of several years, would climb the ladder in days at sea by taking a 10-day, two-week, 30-day and then Grand and World Cruise.”
Delaney stresses to agents that when searching for the right clients for a Grand Voyage, “it never hurts to ask—just to explore what’s going on in your clients’ lives and what they may be thinking about. That’s what a friend—or a good travel agent—is for.”