As 2020 winds down, cruise-selling advisors who've had a rough year can't wait for the opportunity for a new sales environment in 2021. While challenges still exist, there are many positives, too, including COVID-19 vaccine approval and new cruise health/safety protocols, not to mention soaring pent-up demand.
Here's a look at "10 Ways to Be a Better, More Effective Cruise Seller in 2021," based on feedback Travel Agent has received from cruise-selling agents, cruise lines' sales executives and consortia/host/franchise group leaders.
1. Stay in Touch—It Bears Repeating
While staying in touch with clients was important in 2020, it's just as critical in the new year, say sales executives. Vicki Freed, senior vice president, sales, travel support and service, Royal Caribbean International, advocates keeping the conversations friendly, personal and "soft" (don't hard sell) and to pick up the phone and have a personal. one-on-one conversation rather than emailing the client.
Most importantly, Freed advocates that advisors ask the client how he or she and any family members are doing. Be genuine. Be conversational. Show you care. Depending on the client, perhaps mention the year looking up with the COVID-19 vaccine starting to flow to consumers. Also, ask the client what New Year’s resolutions they’ve made for the year ahead. If so, you’ll get a sense of what’s important to them, plus they just might mention "cruising" and their desire to travel once again.
If so, the cruise advisor can say, "There are some really enticing itineraries that we're now seeing for 2022 and 2023. If you'd like, I could email them to you just to show what's coming." It's a good opportunity to put forth potential options based on their style of cruising, personal interests or bucket list.
One New Year's resolution for advisors? Have a goal of contacting a specific number of clients—say five or six—every day. Make a chart, list client names, check them off with the date and any conversation details that could provide "intel" for potential future sales. Plan to follow-up after a reasonable period, depending on the client's level of interest.
2. Protect those FCCs
If advisors have a huge client base, it's easy to lose track of which clients are still holding Future Cruise Credits (FCCs). Those are "golden tickets" revenue-wise for agencies. To protect those FCCs, develop your own methodology—perhaps a spreadsheet—for tracking them.
Or, tap into host, consortia or franchise group programs. Earlier this year, Cruise Planners created a helpful tool that shows advisors which of their clients are holding FCCs and what the status is. Some 55 percent of Cruise Planners clients have redeemed their FCCs—that's $20 million in revenue. But the potential is there for more with 45 percent of the group's clients still holding FCCs.
It's also good to pair knowledge of who's holding an FCC with other tools. The new Avoya Smart Leads program uses proprietary algorithms to identify and proactively alert a travel agency as to which of their past clients is the most likely to book a vacation next. If the agent knows which of those clients is holding an FCC, it's a double plus for revenue potential.
Bottom line? Don't lose track of FCCs. Stay in touch with clients holding them. Avoid the client jumping ship and using that FCC for a booking with a different travel advisor.
3. Tap Into 2023 and 2024
Cruise lines have been releasing schedules much earlier than in the past. So, not only are cruise schedules out for 2021 or 2022, but also 2023 and even 2024. That's particularly helpful when chatting with clients who are skittish about travel right now due to COVID, but may be comfortable with booking a cruise vacation that's much further out.
So, pore over those new options, pick voyages that match up with clients' interests, let them know about these enticing new itineraries and stress the timing—likely allowing plenty of time for the COVID-19 situation to resolve.
4. Keep Pushing Forward
"This year has shown, more than ever, the importance of travel advisors to the success of cruise lines and travel overall," says Adolfo Perez, senior vice president, global sales and trade marketing, Carnival Cruise Line, who stresses that advisors have demonstrated their resilience, adaptability, and passion for the business.
Going into 2021, Perez says his tip to advisors is to keep pushing onward: "Though they will have their ups and downs and may get fatigued by the ever-changing environment, those travel advisors who continue to work hard despite the setbacks are the ones that I believe will make it through this stronger than ever. It’s not a time to give up. It's a time to press on and double down."
5. Ride the Wave
"Wave Season" is usually the most robust cruise selling season of the year. Some advisors have questioned whether there will even be a Wave period this season, but thus far, it's happening and offers may entice even on-the-fence clients. For example, Holland America Line is offering a “View & Verandah” upgrade event that includes six bonus perks and is valued at up to $3,800 per stateroom, depending on length of cruise and category booked. "View & Verandah" applies to the first and second guests in a stateroom, and the promotion includes most of Holland America Line’s global itineraries and the cruise portion of an Alaska Land+Sea Journeys.
By booking any of those 2021 or 2022 cruises by February 28, 2021, clients will receive a stateroom upgrade, signature beverage package, one night of free specialty dining, 10 percent off all shore excursions, 50 percent reduced deposits and free or reduced fares for kids. As an added bonus, guests who book by Jan. 5, 2021, will receive all six of the incentives plus free gratuities.
So, create an email distribution for cruise veterans. Showcase the fabulous Wave offers. Talk about the value-added deals on social media.
6. Tap Into Expedition's High Earnings Potential
In the cruise world, a hot segment is "expedition cruising." A large number of new expedition ships are launching. Expedition lines are offering new "off the beaten path" itineraries. Consumers are seeing these journeys as a way to tap into their personal passions for eco-adventure or bucket list travel.
Expedition cruise fares can be lofty, delivering strong earnings potential for travel advisors. Travel advisor Susan Sheats of World Exposures in Arlington, VA, recently made a high-end expedition cruise sale with help from Quark Expeditions' Chris Hanna, the line's business development manager for the eastern United States. Based on Sheats' booking of one single cabin, one double cabin and travel insurance for an "Epic Antarctica: Crossing the Circle via Falklands and South Georgia," expedition cruise, the clients' total purchase tallied $117,753.
Earning commission on that type of sail signals new opportunity. To start the year, commit to learning more about what makes this segment tick, what’s important, what the experiences are like and how to appeal to the right clients.
7. Create New Virtual Programs
If advisors haven't done a virtual program with cruise clients in 2020, there's no time like early 2021 when most lines are not yet back sailing. So, map out a plan for the first quarter, tap into the new schedules recently released and corral top BDMs to assist and participate in fun, informative, virtual programs for clients.
Also entice some clients to participate and share their top experiences in a destination, Put up clients photos that showcase what the cruise experience can deliver. Use "edu-tainment," such as explaining a local custom with visuals or souvenirs; making a favorite local dish during the program; or suggesting music or movies that can help clients dive deep into a destination experience.
8. Focus on Cruise Veterans
Cruise line executives have bluntly informed advisors that the new-to-cruise segment will likely take time to recover. Prioritize cruise selling efforts early in the year on cruise veterans—existing clients who’ve cruised in the past or potential new clients who've previously cruised. Keep contributing on social media to showcase your expertise and engage veteran cruisers.
That said, use any down time this month to begin working on a future plan for attracting new-to-cruise bookings when market conditions improve. Be ready to move quickly when the timing is right. Reassess the situation monthly.
9. Consider Interim Options
Hang onto existing clients above all else. If they're still skittish about booking a cruise right now, given the pandemic, give them other choices. That way, when cruising comes back in a big way and they're comfortable cruising once again, they'll still be clients.
While waiting for their level of confidence to return, many advisors this year have offered all-inclusive resort stays, beach getaways and even domestic RV travel options—particularly for clients who desire eco-adventure and to explore U.S. National Parks.
Ask your host, franchise agency or consortia about any options. Early in December, Signature Travel Network recently added a new RV rental preferred supplier, Goss RV, to assist its advisors. Or, set up your own program in partnership with a reputable local RV dealer with sizable resources and inventory. RV dealers report a slew of “newbies” eager to learn more about RVing, which can provide potential new clients for other types of travel including cruising in the future.
10. Look to the Rivers
Consumers are increasingly looking to both small oceangoing ships and river cruising for future vacations. In November, a study conducted by Riviera River Cruises found that 34 percent of past ocean cruisers are considering taking a river cruise instead in 2021 and, of those, 79 percent are more likely to take a river cruise than an ocean cruise next year.
So, tap into the trend. Take a specialist course. Send clients a targeted email focused on small-ship cruising with new itineraries, tips for sailing on these ships and what the experience is like. Also relay details about new health/safety protocols to protect guests and crew.
Bonus Advice: Don't Sell from Your Wallet
That's always a tip that cruise lines tell advisors. But in 2021, it's going to be more important than ever.
While many travel agencies are hurting financially and some advisors pinching pennies to make ends meet, not everyone's situation is the same. While some clients may have had a "tough go" this year, others who are still employed may be doing very well. They may be both financially and emotionally ready to cruise again.
"Now more than ever, don't sell from your wallet," stresses Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service, Celebrity Cruises. "U.S. savings are at an all time high, plus pent-up demand means it's time to sell high, like retreat [if they balk] and go down from there—versus selling on price and from the advisor's comfort zone."
In other words, Ritzenthaler says: "Shoot for the stars. People are ready."