10 Ways to Increase Cruise Sales
By Susan J. Young
Wave Season is over, Alaska and Europe for 2006 are highly booked, so what’s ahead in cruise selling? Now is the time to re-energize your cruise sales with new ideas, approach each day with passion and commitment, and, as the U.S. Small Business Administration recommends, never let a day pass without engaging in at least one marketing activity. Spring is a great time to “clean house” both mentally and physically and take time to grow your cruise business.
Following is a blueprint on how to do that, based on feedback Travel Agent received from cruise executives, marketing experts and cruise sellers. Peruse the list and get cracking today to enhance revenue.
1. Tap Into Outside Resources: Most lines want agents to use their sales and marketing staffs as a resource; they will make suggestions about business plans, agency promotion and sales strategies. Carnival Cruise Lines’ business development managers are specifically told to consider themselves an extension of the agent’s office, so they will go out with agents on sales calls. Visit www.bookccl.com. Get in touch with other line DSMs as well.
Now is the time to use cruise line co-op dollars. “Because we have enjoyed strong volume during Wave Season we do not utilize our co-op dollars with our cruise line partners until the wave is over,” stresses Chuck Kratz, owner, Cruise Holidays, Shelby, MI. Then “starting with the second quarter we do direct mail pieces as well as newspaper ads promoting affinity groups created exclusively by our location and focused on the last two quarters of the calendar year as well as the first quarter of 2007.”
If your agency is new or small, talk to cruise lines’ inside sales reps: They will also show you how to enhance your sales. Small lines and river companies have smaller staffs, so agents might even end up with the vice president of sales; listen, soak in the strategies, and do at least one tip they suggest this week.
Look in your local bookstore for a sales and marketing tips book. Trawl online at sites like www.theideaexchange.com, www.wordz.com and www.sba.gov/managing/marketing/100ideas.html; the latter features 100 great marketing ideas.
Or, visit www.ideamachine.biz and order the Idea Machine 2, a marketing tips handbook written by David Stockert, director of sales promotions, Holland America Line. For example, Stockert says take brochures to jury rooms in your area or offer to put a cruise poster on the ceiling at your dentist office. The Idea Machine 2 online cost is $12 plus $2 shipping and handling.
2. Be Better Partners: If you’re an executive with a host agency, make a few personal phone calls weekly to some of your affiliated agents. Ask if they are getting what’s needed to do the job, and what they see as their strengths and weaknesses. Create solutions. Making just a few agents more productive every single week could bolster your bottom line.
Free up someone today to call all major preferred partners and check whether you are tapping into all their programs and resources. What aren’t you doing? Host agencies might add Royal Caribbean’s Partners@Home flyer onto their host agency business center or extranet site. It gives agents a summary of learning opportunities, sales tools and niche marketing programs for the Partners@Home program.
Home-based agents or independent contractors should, in turn, seek input from executives at their host agency, franchise group or consortia. Make proactive calls to sales staff or executives. Ask for an appointment to talk about your future and sales. Don’t be shy. Just belonging to a group or going online isn’t enough; tap the expertise of the group’s principals.
3. Embrace High-Tech: Technology is not the future, it’s today’s necessity. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has a handbook that can assist your agency in ways to evaluate technology solutions; visit www.cruising.org. Lines also have a zillion web-based resources to help you build sales. Windstar Cruises offers agents an online toolbox including SailCards, SailGuides, e-postcards, and links to reservations and NPC commission express to help agents track payments. Visit www.windstarcruises.com.
Seabourn Cruise Line’s "Fast Forward" program provides home-based agents with a library of high-quality, full-color HTML email promotions that are easy to customize and a snap to send. Visit www.seabournfastforward.com. Most lines offer customized collateral and direct mail imprint programs.
For agents without GDS access, Princess’ Polar Online reservations system offers simple bookings that take seven steps and two minutes; visit www.princess.com. Cunard has a program based on similar technology. Before the end of this year, Costa Cruises will launch Costa Click, which includes 24/7 booking capabilities, group management, a one-on-one help desk and professional training. Enhancements to Crystal Cruises’ online booking engine for travel agents means agents can now more easily change state rooms and/or categories for existing bookings and cancel bookings; view all bookings, whether made online or by phone, and make changes; and make dining requests. Phone calls are no longer needed.
4. Work the Database: “We’ve found that during Wave Season that you take more of a reactive approach to cruise sales,” notes Bud Smead, owner, Cruise Holidays, Arvada, CO. “However, after the wave is over, you have to take a much more pro-active role. Rather than just waiting for the phone to ring -- which it probably won’t -- now is the perfect time to reconnect with clients on your existing database. Making personal calls to our clients has always proven to be well worth the time spent.”
Let people know it’s not too early to be thinking about 2007 to get the great deals and best selection. Then, when a client is ready to book, “we are top of mind with them because we’ve taken just a little time for that personal contact,” says Smead.
Also, add new database contacts by partnering with similar (but not competitive) businesses in your area, perhaps a luxury car dealer or the top jeweler if you’re selling luxury cruises, says David Morris, senior vice president of North American sales, Silversea Cruises. Share information or cross promote.
5. Train, Train, Train: CLIA (www.cruising.org) offers a full-bodied program that includes classroom, online, workbook, and cruise3sixty training options; it also provides trainers for seminars at sea. The latter is a great way to gain experiential knowledge of the product and emotional hooks for cruise selling. Platinum Seminars (www.platinumseminars.com) offers dozens of Seminars at Sea annually, and just trained its 25,000th luxury travel agent onboard the Queen Mary 2.
“Travel agents who want to become travel consultants need new skills and a new way of thinking that moves beyond just product training,” said Scott Caddow, president, the Association of Travel Agents of America’s board of directors. The ATAA Seminar at Sea 2006 will take place September 4-9 onboard Carnival Victory, roundtrip from New York to Saint John, Newfoundland and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Visit www.ataa.net. Consult ASTA, ARTA, NACTA, OSSN, and other agency groups about training.
When considering what training to take, “where the rubber meets the road is selling,” stresses Bob Dickinson, president and CEO, Carnival Cruise Lines. “The best travel agents know how to sell, they’re not afraid in a selling scenario, they ask for the business and they have no fear of rejection,” says Dickinson, who says not enough agents understand the importance of sales skills. He says joining a consortium, paying attention to CRM, spending a lot of money on programs and marketing and feeling good about it just won’t cut it from a business perspective if you don’t know how to sell.
Sales training is definitely included in CLIA’s new two-day Training Fests, which will combine classroom instruction with member line trade shows. Agents will earn up to 70 credits toward CLIA Cruise Counselor certification. Retailers pick one of two levels. Level one includes the introductory courses of Cruise Vacations: An Introduction, Principles of Professional Selling, Managing Your Time Effectively, and Psychology of Selling. Level two feature more advanced classes including Group Sales Made Easy, Direct Mail that Sells, Effective Presentation Skills, and Creating a Cruise Marketing Plan.
Most cruise lines also have their own training options. Costa offers “webinars,” which agents attend online from their home offices; visit www.costacruises.com. At RSSC University, www.rsscu.com, agents register for a $25 fee and then take an online certification program to become Regent Seven Seas experts. CEU credits are awarded along with a $100 bonus commission certificate.
“Our greatest effort is at education and communication,” says Bob Lepisto, senior vice president, worldwide sales and marketing, SeaDream Yacht Club. “We conduct three or four teleconference training sessions each month, including one entitled ‘Charter and Group Development to Earn up to $60,000 Commission in One Sale.’ “All who participate are then added to our database of educated yacht sellers who receive e-mails that they may personalize as well as invitations to sail with us at agent rates,” says Lepisto. Small ship lines also have training options; contact individual lines or www.nichecruise.com.
6. Develop an Effective 30-Second Introduction: Most agents know it’s important to network, attend community events, greet other business leaders in business-card exchanges, and socialize at church, schools and other public places. But do you have a 30-second introduction -- a commercial of sorts -- that introduces you to potential clients and asks for their business. Within 30 seconds, you should be able to articulate to others who you are, what your company is, what your company does, how you can help them, and why the person you’re talking to should care. For “Developing an Effective 30-Second Commercial” and other marketing tips visit http://marketing.about.com/od/marketingtipsandadvice/.
As for business cards, put 100 in your purse or briefcase right now. How often do you say: “I’m all out of cards right now?” When giving out a card, give out two and ask the receiver to give one to a friend or colleague. And leave your business card with the tip at a restaurant (providing you tip enough).
7. Move Beyond Your Comfort Zone: Perhaps you sell the same few preferred partners over and over. That’s great, but don’t overlook niche products that offer something beyond the norm, or help you gain a new audience.
Many agents have said “no” to the thought of selling easyCruise, the no frills budget cruise product, where guests pay for cabin service and pay by the day. But easyCruise now pays 10 percent commission and is cultivating agents for fams. Joyce Rudowski, The Travel Store, Cincinnati, OH, sailed with easyCruise and believes it fills a need for some clients. “Put together a group of college students or other young adults and you’ll make a few dollars and gain the confidence of a generation of travelers who may move up the travel ladder,” says Rudowski.
Appoint a river cruise expert on your staff, create a river cruise window display, add “pluses of river cruising” copy on your web site, and promote new vessels. Showcase new river vessels with modern facilities including hotel style beds, private baths, floor to ceiling windows and balconies. Uniworld’s River Royale launched earlier this month and even has Wi-Fi access.
In selling all products, sell up and don’t lead with price. Use the emotional and experiential hooks. Ask the customer if he or she would like a private concierge, or perhaps a private balcony where they could have breakfast sailing through Glacier Bay National Park, or two connecting cabins with two bathrooms, which is a very popular option for luxury customers.
Introduce yourself to the local news media and assist reporters with expert comments on breaking travel news. That could mean anything from holiday travel trends to terrorism and cruise safety. Send a letter with your business card to local media. Realize this isn’t a place to pitch your services; instead, your presence and comments will portray you as the expert to the community and new clients will come to you.
8. Think Land: Don’t leave money on the table. “We definitely feel that the land pre- and post-packages help sell cruises and earn the agents more commission, so much so that we just featured ‘Extending Your Cruise on Land’ as the front page article of our quarterly mailer, Cruise Shopper to 125,000 households on behalf of our agents,” says Shawn Tubman, president and CEO, CruiseShoppes. While Tubman says he doesn’t think the land options will ever be as important to prospects as the cruise itself, in certain markets (Europe, South Pacific, Far East), “they will continue to build steam.”
A few lines do offer commission on pre-packaged shore trips, but many agents now use private shore trips firms, where you will get paid commission. Among them are www.portpromotions.com, www.shoretrips.com and www.myexcursions.com.
9. Check Your Appearance: Your agency’s “curb appeal” outside and overall appearance inside can help, or hinder your chances of attracting new clients. Cluttered offices with too much furniture, papers, cute freebie stuff from cruise lines and even personal knickknacks sends the wrong message. Clients want professionalism. So look the part. If your office looks more like a sorority or tax office than a place where vacation dreams comes true, it sorely needs a makeover.
Agency managers might call customers after they leave the office, or walk them briefly to their car. Ask what they think of your digs. Tell them to be honest. What did they like about it, what didn’t they? Ask for adjectives to describe your office? What would make the office more conducive to serving their needs? Similarly, if you have an online agency, ask web visitors what they think of the site.
Then clean out and spruce up, if needed. Brick and mortar agencies might add new paint, redo a window display, clean junk off desks and get rid of too many personal knickknacks; one photo of an agent’s kids is fine, but leave the entire family entourage of photos and kids’ hand paintings at home. If furniture isn’t that inviting, try adding new drapes, better lighting, a soft area rug or plush pillows. Put administrative work or files in a back room. Add a wow-factor item outside your door or on the web site.
And, does your staff’s appearance fit your customer base’s own image. In dealing with luxury customers, for example, you don’t have to be rich, just look that way. Pay attention to hair, nails and clothes. Even for casual offices, forego jeans and tank tops; crisp slacks and sport shirts create a professional appearance. Agency owners might consider buying logo shirts for all staff to wear.
10. Follow Terry’s Plan: Agents attending CLIA’s show, cruise3sixty, in Fort Lauderdale in 2006, heard Terry Dale, CLIA’s president and CEO, put forth what Travel Agent calls “Terry’s Plan” for business success. For example, know yourself, and have clearly defined goals, objectives and a business plan. Take responsibility for your successes and failures.
Use the words “I understand,” which Dale calls the two most important words in sales. Ask the right questions of customers. People like to talk about themselves. Ask and they’ll tell you. Think “upside down, inside out and sideways” as “out of the box” is no longer enough. Commit to lifelong learning, so you see new opportunities and are open to new ideas.
Define your “aha.” In Brooklyn, Dale says there is a pizza restaurant that is routinely judged best in New York. It’s in one, not very good location, with shabby ambience and rude service. So why do people come? “They have the best sauce and the best crust, and they know their ‘aha’ and deliver that consistently, day in and day out,” says Dale. “How are you unique?”
Finally, be a gladiator. Have passion, and wake up and say, ‘I’m going to sell more cabins today than ever before.”