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The Art of Selling UpApril 30, 2007 By: Ruthanne Terrero, Mark Rogers, Mackenzie Allison, Jennifer Merritt, Debbie Strong, David Eisen, Dan Butcher Travel Agent
Hints on how to enhance your sales and boost your bottom line
A man and a woman in their 50s walk into your agency, looking to book a cruise to the Bahamas. They're first-time cruisers and have established a spending limit of $3,000, including airfare. How can you convince them to spend a little more on upgrades, thereby increasing the value of their vacation, not to mention your commission?
Agents use a variety of ways to "sell up" when
booking a client's vacation, and here, Travel Agent rounded up a few of
the more inspired methods. Try one on your next client and see if you can't
make someone's dream vacation come true.
Tom Jackson, president of Santa Ana, CA-based World Travel
Bureau Inc., strongly believes in the power of selling up. "Selling up is
all about 'value for money'—the new buzz phrase—and the agent being confident
about the product," he says.
Amanda Klimak, the vice president of Largay Travel Inc. in
agrees and says that most of her business is based on upselling to clients.
"You have to know their hot buttons," Klimak says.
"For one person, it might be the size of the suites or the location—you
need to know those features." Klimak says her biggest form of business is
selling cruise lines, and she is always quick to tell clients that for slightly
more, they can get into the five-star luxury lines. "It benefits me,
because there is more included, and the client is thrilled with that."
Start the Sale Right
Agents report that the first principle of selling up is to
always ask clients about their willingness to upgrade. Never assume a client
can't afford something or won't be open to a suggestion. Get used to selling
from the top, agents say, because your opportunity for an increased sale is
your client's chance at a memorable vacation—and a happy customer is a repeat
Sometimes, clients may need some convincing that they
deserve to splurge.
"Spend a little more and you can have the trip of a
lifetime," says Heinke McDade, president of McDade Travel in
"The argument I always like to use is if you only have two weeks of
vacation a year and you don't have a good time on vacation, you just wasted
that time that you don't get back."
McDade says she loves the idea of selling up because it's
almost as though she is giving her customers permission to live a little. Very
often, she says, it's matching the client with the appropriate product and then
examining potential upgrades from there.
"I had very good clients who booked a Holland America
Line cruise in the middle of March, and then
called and said they could be in a suite for $600, right below the
penthouse," McDade recalls. "They had the time of their lives, and
they're going again."
Most importantly, McDade realizes her own reputation is at
stake when booking a client's vacation. "If I sell a cheap trip, customers
will judge me," she says. "If we have the reputation, we should be
coming up with dream vacations. Most of the time, I think we succeed." Selling
Up: Dos and Don'ts
Another technique to selling up is to think differently. If
you have a family of four taking a 12-day vacation to
accommodations as opposed to a hotel? By doing this, the family feels more like
a part of the local scenery, rather than tourists coming and going from a
hotel. "You need to turn it into their benefit," says Susan Gannon,
senior director of marketing and development of cruise products for Ensemble
Travel Group. "That's a component that's missing sometimes when agents try
to sell up."
Selling up can sometimes mean selling longer, says Jack
Mannix, president and CEO of Ensemble.
"A longer trip can make for a better trip," he
says. Also, agents can increase a sale by snowballing a trip to include friends
and extended family, he suggests.
Upselling for a Cruise
Eight years ago, David Fritz, president of Cruise Everything
from selling mass-market cruises and into the business of capitalizing on the
premium and luxury side. Not only did that decision help his bottom line, it
too armed him with the knowledge on how to take his mass-market clients and turn
them onto higher-end products.
Like any business, the more expensive the product you sell,
the higher the commission. So it makes sense, though without totally shunning
your mass-market clientele, to strive to sell higher-end inventory. This means
not only the type of cruise vessel, but also the room.
"You have to explain the options they have," says
Fritz. "Don't be an order taker, but be their consultant. We'll give
clients the advantage of having a room with a veranda, especially on a
mass-market ship because the cost difference is usually minimal."
The difference between an inside room, which Fritz makes
sure to qualify as a room with no window, and an outside room with a private
balcony is so vast that it's almost a sin to not try and sell a guest up that
way. "You have to put a realistic spin on it," Fritz explains.
"An inside room is a glorified closet." To facilitate the process,
Fritz tries to help his clients visualize the different rooms and uses terms
like "magical" to describe the pleasure derived out of having your
own balcony, especially for first-timers.
Meanwhile, a little salesmanship can move a client from a
Carnival to a Holland America cruise, leaving a larger commission check in your
wallet. And, it's not that hard.
"Half of my clients who chose the mass market
originally, have moved to premium," Fritz says. He's even taken entry-level
guests all the way up to Silversea. To accomplish the feat, Fritz will often
host groups on premium or luxury ships and invite prospective clients whom he
believes may be willing to move up in ship class. "Give them the
opportunity to be introduced to a premium product," he says. After an
initial written invitation, Fritz will follow up with a phone call. "You
have to spend the extra time it takes to show the guest that even though it may
cost more, it's a better product," he says.
Of course, one benefit that sells itself on some premium and
luxury lines is the gratuities-included policy. Gratuities alone can end up
costing cruisers much more than they anticipated. This is where Fritz's
consortium, Signature, helps him out. "Signature is leading us down the
right path," he says. "We have benefits through them that include
payments of gratuities on ships that add them. It's great, and we get to take
Training Your Agents
"Selling up is the most important thing you can train
your staff to do," says Maureen Jones, owner of All Horizons Travel in
In fact, her entire staff is trained in the pros and cons of selling up, thanks
to the fact that the topic is taught in training sessions by the Signature
Travel Network, the agency's consortium.
Additionally, because the back of the house for the agency's
web site is powered by Signature, All Horizons' agents can easily demonstrate
to their clients the benefits of booking a cruise cabin in a higher category.
"You can go onto the web site, click on 'Cruises' and
say to the client, 'This is your cabin. If you want an upgrade, you can get a
cabin with a sitting room—or instead of an inside cabin, why not get one with a
balcony?' You would be amazed, once they see it, how they want to
Jones says that the agency's honeymoon registry has proven
to be an ideal mechanism for selling up. "If a young couple comes in and
says, 'We've only got $5,000 to spend, can we take a trip to
'Instead of your wedding guests buying you a toaster, why don't they buy you a
dinner cruise or a day of snorkeling on your trip?' That is selling up for the
When it comes to selling
Jones encourages her clients to take a hotel in the heart of a city, rather
than staying on the outskirts of town. While the hotel that is further away may
be less expensive, clients will spend their dollars traveling back and forth by
cab all day. If they're in
however, she'll put them in Knightsbridge—where they can walk, for free, to the
theaters, shops and restaurants.
"It's all about training, and you sell what you
know," says Jones. "This is why I encourage my agents to take so many
trips, because then they can speak with conviction to the client because
they've experienced it themselves." Jones, who teaches classes to travel
agents in her area, tells her students: "You are not order takers; you are
professionals. It is up to you to learn about everything there is."
Don't Be Afraid
As agency manager for Nervig Travel in
Varianna Colemere has some simple advice for her agents when it comes to
"Do not be afraid. Your clients may have seen something
on the Internet, but they're coming to you—they want you to sell to them."
Colemere tells her agents that the number-one order of business is to qualify
their clients. "Figure out from your clients what they are looking for in
their trip. If experience is more important to them than money, the sky's the
The word "cheapest" is not in Colemere's vocabulary
and she doesn't want her agents using it. Colemere sums it up by advising
agents to always sell the overall experience; don't forget to paint a picture
for clients; and to remember: never be afraid.
—With reporting by Mackenzie Allison, Daniel Butcher,
David Eisen, Jennifer Merritt, Mark Rogers, Debbie Strong and Ruthanne Terrero