As cruise-selling agents have entered the second half of 2018, Travel Agent asked retailers about how they plan to ratchet up sales: What do they plan to focus on? What’s their priority as the last half of the year unfolds? Here's what we learned...
It’s Simple—Stay in Touch
Carolyn Leibowitz, franchise owner, Cruise Planners in Palm City, FL, plans to reach out over the phone to as many of the agency’s clients as possible. She’ll touch base, let them know about the sales in the marketplace and see if the agency can assist in making plans.
“We’re especially going to call clients that traveled last year at this time to see if they are planning on traveling again this year,” Leibowitz stresses.
Lisa Long, co-owner, Luxury Vacations LLC, an independent agency in the Avoya Travel Network, in Marietta, GA, says staying in touch with clients has multiple benefits. Yes, it helps sales, but just as important, says Long, is that it delivers attentive customer service.
“My customers appreciate being informed and are happy for the reminder,” says Long. “It’s my goal as their vacation planner to make sure they have their first-choice vacation always.”
Create Personalized E-mails
“The best way for me to increase cruise sales is to target my potential customers with personalized e-mails,” stresses Ria Maratheftis, owner, The Travel Nook in Bayside, NY, a Nexion member.
For instance, she cites a recent WOW sale from Royal Caribbean International, which included BOGO, onboard credit and kids sail free incentives. “It’s pretty common that most families have a lot of competing financial priorities but still want to make memories with their children,” Maratheftis says.
So, when there’s an appealing promotion, she starts with a nice personalized e-mail about the offer to her clients. Then she follows up to make sure they have it, as well as links to her business’ social media sites “where I am posting turquoise beaches, sunsets and ‘Wish you were here... oh, wait, you can be’ posts.”
Then the magic happens. “Well then, all of a sudden, a cruise looks like something they want to—and can—do,” says Maratheftis. “Always follow up and check in [with clients]. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
Get a Head Start on River Cruises
Primarily specializing in river cruises, Long plans to call and e-mail customers to see if they have plans for a 2019 river cruise: “Now is a good time to remind clients about available inventory and itineraries for next year.”
She stresses that most river vessels typically have only 118 to 165 guests per ship, so they tend to book up quickly. Without pressing, she uses phone calls and e-mails to let the customers know that the specific itinerary and cabin category they desire may not be available for the dates they want to travel as the departure time nears.
The key message to potential clients, whether they’re sailing on Uniworld, Viking River Cruises, Pandaw or many other river lines? Long says it’s best to think about booking soon.
As the year winds down, Laurie Shuss, franchise owner and vacation specialist, Dream Vacations, Fort Myers, FL, is concentrating on ramping up her river cruise group sales.
“We were just approached by a golf magazine to place an ad in their bi-annual publication, which got us thinking about developing a group on AmaWaterways with their Concierge Golf program as an add-on,” Shuss says. “We feel this is a perfect opportunity to boost our sales.”
She’ll be using social media to get the word out to as many people as possible, and “we will be contacting golf and country clubs in the area to make presentations to their membership about this special opportunity.”
Re-Evaluate What’s “On the Table”
One top revenue focus for Leibowitz is to assure that all clients with vacations booked this year have all their ancillary services and options booked. That includes shore excursions, travel insurance, and pre- and post-cruise add-ons.
Agents wishing to top off their revenue this year should re-evaluate all bookings for upcoming cruises and what’s been “left on the table.”
Suggesting options to add on isn’t just added revenue for agencies. It’s also a way to enhance guest satisfaction, creating happy clients who will cruise and then likely return to the same agency to book again.
Put on Special Cruise Events
Nora Blum, a Travel Leaders Network agent, serves as director of sales and marketing in the Maple Grove, MN agency location. She oversees marketing for seven agency locations owned by Dave and Sandy Lovick. Blum is a big believer in promotional cruise events to ramp up cruise sales.
“We did one last week in our Rochester, MN, location, and have another coming up in August in Minneapolis that we are doing with other Twin Cities-area agencies—the Travel Leaders locations in Apple Valley, MN, (owned by Sara Butruff) and in Albert Lea, MN (owned by Bonnie and Walt Lee).”
About 20 people attended the last cruise event and more than 150 plan to attend next month’s event, which is in a larger market. She finds that some consumer events, such as those for river cruises, are particularly valuable as consumers often don’t know what questions to ask.
“When they come to one of our presentations, they learn about their options and we usually have representatives from the vendors on site,” says Blum, adding that “we do it in a low-pressure way” and the events feature appetizers and wine.
Blum says “these consumer events really help the customers understand our value and help them find the right cruise. There is more of an urgency to book once they have attended one of our events because we usually have some call to action to get people to confirm.”
Focus on Clients’ Travel Patterns
While agents are working to stir up business through year’s end, thinking much farther ahead and building a foundation for future sales is also critical.
Pris Phillips, independent vacation specialist, Cruises Inc. in Columbia, SC, says it’s important for agents to recognize clients’ pattern of travel and encourage them to plan farther out—more than just a year.
“You must ‘plant seeds’ for future destinations,” says Phillips. “If they have a particular cruise line or land travel supplier, keep notes so when promotions are published for their favorite one, you are certain to reach out and tell them all about the promotions.”
She also occasionally throws out the idea of a new supplier just to keep things fresh and exciting.
Phillips says: “It has been my experience that clients who tend to travel around the same time each year, will continue to do that and it's the travel agent's job to keep them fed with information about future destinations. Your clients will thank you over and over and are left feeling thankful that you took the time to personalize your 'shout out.'"
Dig Deeper Into Oceangoing Options
Capacity for oceangoing cruises is continuing to soar and, so, focusing on suppliers and digging down deeper in their offerings, opportunities and resources makes good sense.
Kecia Shackelford, a travel agent from Uniquely Yours Events, Travel and Gifts (associated with host agency OASIS Travel Network) in Carrollton, GA, plans to increase her agency’s Carnival Cruise Line sales by year’s end by reaching out to currently booked guests and groups.
The intention? She’s hoping to increase the number of staterooms booked within individual groups. In addition, Shackelford says: “I keep in contact with my clients by posting current sales and promotions that are offered from Carnival via Facebook and Instagram to reach all of my Facebook friends and business clients.
One way she makes her promotions stand out is to use Carnival stationery to create attractive electronic flyers that clients can also distribute to their friends, co-workers and family; the materials have the cruise details plus her contact information.
Tap Into Host/Franchise/Consortia Tools
Leibowitz is using Cruise Planners’ host lists to see which of her clients have upcoming milestones or haven’t booked a trip in a while, as well as an e-card builder to send out promotions
“I also make sure all clients are opted in for weekly travel deals and the luxury travel deals e-mails,” she says.
As the year winds down, it’s an opportune time to check out the latest tools and marketing programs available through host agencies, franchise headquarters’ groups and consortia.
Stand Out in Public
Some agents said that being highly visible in their community is imperative to robust cruise sales. For example, Leibowitz is out every day at various networking events, wearing her agency’s logo and talking cruise travel at every opportunity.
Agents who desire to ratchet up sales should think “visibility” at every turn, whether that’s a simple run to the grocery store wearing an agency tee-shirt with business cards in hands, an interview about cruise vacation tips on a local radio station or a business-focused luncheon set up by the chamber of commerce or a charitable group.
Tempt Clients With Social Media Posts
Agents also say they are increasingly using posts on their agency website or on social media to turn a tempting vacation experience into much more for the client—something 'we too could do too.'
Make it personal, says Shackelford, who uses Carnival banners and shares pictures of her cruising clients when posting on social media or the agency’s website. So, for example, she might post a photo that says, “Pinkard Family enjoying their family time on the Carnival Elation.”
As a result, some of her clients now actually request that their vacation be highlighted on the agency’s business pages. “I use suggestive posts to trigger the mindset of my clients to think outside of the box,” she says.
Remind Clients About Special Occasions
Leibowitz is in tune with upcoming celebrations of her clients and “I remind them of the perfect way to celebrate.”
Shackelford, a certified event planner, also entices clients to plan a cruise around a birthday, anniversary or vow renewal celebration. “It’s working, and I am constantly booking throughout the year,” Shackelford stresses. “I expect to surpass my sales goals and make this the best year ever.”