|Photo courtesy Voyages to Antiquity|
Earlier this month, Jim Applebaum joined Voyages to Antiquity as the line’s new vice president of sales and marketing for North America. Applebaum is a 25-year veteran of the cruise and travel industry, and highly familiar with the niche world of small ship ocean cruising.
Applebaum formerly served as director of sales for Paul Gauguin Cruises. Before that, he worked for First European Cruises, Travelsavers, Premier Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, among other travel firms.
In his new role for Voyages to Antiquity, he takes over the position previously held by Mitch Schlesinger, who has left the company.
Applebaum reports to David Yellow, the line's managing director based in the U.K. office, and is responsible for promoting and selling Aegean Odyssey, Voyage to Antiquity’s premium vessel that carries 400 or so guests.
Operationally, Voyage to Antiquity’s Aegean Odyssey now has 18 more superior staterooms on the Lido Deck for agents to sell. These new non-balcony staterooms were recently created in space previously occupied by the ship’s spa. The spa has been relocated to the Columbus Deck.
|Photo courtesy Voyages to Antiquity|
First Week on the Job
Travel Agent talked to Applebaum this week. While he had been on the job just a week, he was already actively promoting his new line.
“I like what the company has to offer,” said Applebaum. I like what Gerry (Gerry Herrod, the line’s owner) has done with the product. I like the client it’s going after and what the product provides in the sense of education and cultural experiences.”
Agents who sell Voyages to Antiquity says it's quite different than most cruise products. The small-ship product is a good fit for mature travelers. It's also favored by clients who favor a hefty dose of in-depth enrichment focused on history, culture and archaeology.
Typically, clients who book on the niche line have good discretionary income.“The good news for us is that the client has [already] experienced land packages, river cruises and specialty cruises,” said Applebaum. “It’s not your normal mass-market type of client.”
What's Applebaum's first "take" on his prime objective in the new job? “There a lot 'going right' with the company,” he emphasized.
“If there’s an area that we just have to expand, it’s travel agent awareness and making sure the travel agency knows what our product offers…that’s my number one focus," he said. “I’m going to reach out to all the agencies and our partners who have given us business."
For example, the day of this interview, Applebaum was headed for a meeting with Cruise Planners headquarters staff in Coral Springs, FL.
With individual agencies who already are booking the Voyages to Antiquity product, “if they’ve given us two or three bookings, I’d like them to give us four, five or six bookings,” he stressed. “If we can do just that, it will be a home-run success story.”
In addition, Applebaum will reach out to other agencies and consortia in the marketplace that aren’t selling the product but have good potential, based on the target demographics and psychographics. As part of that effort, he’ll make agency calls in the New York and New Jersey area this week.
“We need to increase the number of agents who give us business," he said. As for consortia and franchise groups, he acknowledges that the line is so small that it’s often challenging to create the right types of partnerships – given that the product isn’t a mass-market sell.
“What happens with a consortia is that we’re so small, so although we would like to work with them and they would like to work with us, sometimes it makes no sense for either party,” Applebaum emphasized.
For example, he’d prefer to explore partnerships that allow the line exposure to 30 to 40 "best fit" agencies who have the right clients for Voyages to Antiquity, rather than trying to promote to a broad-based contingency of 3,000 agents who sell mass-market products.
|Photo by Susan J. Young|
Currently, the company works with Ensemble, Aflluent Traveler, Cruise Planners and a few others. Voyages to Antiquity also just signed a new agreement with Nexion. Applebaum said he plans to reach out and talk with others including Signature, with which the line had a past relationship.
Applebaum urged all agents to target former river cruise or land component clients. While an agency may only have 300 to 400 clients that meet the cruise portion of a Voyages to Antiquity client qualification, he said they may have another 1,000 qualified clients within the other two categories.
The line has been highly successful at selling group affinity cruises to alumni groups, archaeological associations and other large enrichment-focused groups. Applebaum says that's “really strong” and will continue.
Right now, his key mission is to increase business from the individual agency side. Thus, he's: (1) identifying agencies that could increase sales from current levels; (2) discovering agencies who aren’t selling the product but should be; (3) educating more agents about the product, and (4) creating new consortia or agency group relationships that offer the line access to agencies with clients who are appropriate for the Voyages to Antiquity product.
For the next six or seven weeks, Applebaum will be on the phone with agents or traveling into the field to meet personally with agency owners.
|Photo courtesy of Voyages to Antiquity|
Moving forward, expect much greater emphasis on agent training than in the past. Voyages to Antiquity is currently developing new agent Webinars - “enlightening them on how to sell our product…what we are as a product, what we deliver, how you go out and sell and who is your market.”
What about your clients who love the existing product? They likely won’t see major product changes with Applebaum’s arrival.
While the marketplace ultimately dictates what works, Applebaum said: “Right now, our goal is to continue along the path we’re at to get the ship full.”
The line is known for its slick, impressive voyage collateral materials but, in the future, expect to see smaller brochures as well. Smaller collateral will help cut mailing costs for the line and agencies alike; it will allow the line to get more collateral into the hands of more agents, according to Applebaum.
The line is also building its fan base, with its Odyssey Club, a frequent guest program, and expanded itineraries in the Far East including cruises that call in Myanmar (formerly Burma).
Plus, the line is actively cultivating the mature single market, thanks to Aegean Odyssey’s 26 dedicated single cabins; some are even balcony cabins.
"The mature market is a very big market for us,” said Applebaum. “The clients are really now asking for single cabins. The line announced a new single supplement promotion last week; visit www.travelagentcentral.com/cruises/voyages-antiquity-offers-10-percent-single-supplement-feb-28-2013.
His vision for the line? “I think we’re a premium line with a tremendous value,” Applebaum said. “And I think the client has to really understand what we offer,” referring to the inclusion of shore trips within the cruise fare.
“It’s action-packed,” he said of the extensive time clients spend ashore sightseeing, walking among ruins or visiting cultural treasures.
In addition, clients spend time onboard taking in multiple onboard enrichment lectures onboard. While Aegean Odyssey has no casino, no production shows and no disco, it’s "action" for enrichment minded clients - simply a different type of cruise.
Typically, there’s light music in the lounge during the evening, but guests typically are headed to bed by 11 p.m. because the next day they’re typically up at 6 a.m. preparing for an extensive experience ashore.
For example, on the line’s Ephesus port calls, those die-hard archaeological fans that opt for a trip to Aphrodisias, Turkey, are looking at a full day ashore with a lot of walking throughout the ancient city’s ruins, lunch and several hours each way on the motorcoach.
“Our challenge with the agents is to assure they understand that the shore trips are included, the hotels are included and that the agent is getting commission on a [more full-bodied product],” said Applebaum said. “We’re not just a cruise.”
For more information, visit www.voyagestoantiquity.com