Bill Smith, senior VP of sales and marketing for Crystal Cruises, starts the Gala on a fun note
If one thought the 19th annual Crystal Cruises trade gala for top producers was going to be a stuffy affair, Bill Smith’s opening session antics onboard Crystal Serenity put that theory to rest. A consummate showman and motivator, Smith, who is Crystal’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, led top producing agents, agency owners and consortia leaders in a spontaneous opening session dance that would have made Ellen DeGeneres proud.
Agents applaud Bill Smith's opening performance
It was definitely a refreshing, light moment for a stellar trade group that clearly deserved a long weekend of fun and recognition by Crystal for their sales performance. These agents, agency owners and consortia heads parlayed their sales and business expertise into a minimum of $750,000 in Crystal sales during 2008. A total of 67 qualified for the gala, up from 63 the previous year.
Despite a tough last quarter of 2008, 42 in the group produced more than $1 million in Crystal Cruises sales. Nineteen posted more than $2 million. Crystal officials reported that Mary Jean Tully, chairman and CEO of Cruise Professionals, once again took the top spot for the most sales in 2008.
Noting that 2008 “was a pretty good year,” Smith said he expects to maintain the $750,000 threshold for sales in order for agencies to qualify for the 2010 gala. But he and Eric Graves, the line’s vice president of sales, also said the line is looking at how to better recognize agencies who are also good performers and in the sales categories just under the gala threshold.
As the three-day event unfolded, the top producers heard from Crystal officials about what’s new at Crystal and what’s ahead. Here is the first in a three-part series about the gala and trade issues and announcements.
Sally Goldwasser, president, Unique Travel of Palm Beach, Michio Tamiya, chairman, Crystal Cruises, Jeannie Underwood, director of national accounts, Crystal Cruises
It’s imperative that agents let clients know about value in the marketplace, said Smith. “Eleventh hour booking patterns are alive and well this year. We are seeing – in no uncertain terms – that it’s going to be a different year. I think there is going to be a surge of late bookings even in the luxury sector.”
Smith also said that while bookings are coming in at a steady pace, the “stick rate” is less than the norm, but improving a bit. At one time that stick rate was down to a few as one booking “sailed” for every eight made. Now that’s improved to one booking “sailed” for every two or three bookings made.
Smith emphasized that while consumers may be booking closer in, there is pent-up demand from consumers who held off booking in late 2008 and now are ready for a vacation experience. Currently, guests who are not Crystal Society members are booking as little as three months prior to sailing, with Crystal Society members averaging about six months out for their bookings. That’s less than the norm for Crystal and the luxury segment.
This week, Crystal launched a new more visually enticing Web site. The previous text-heavy site look has been replaced with a refreshing, dynamic visual approach that features dramatic photography and interactive slide shows. Agents may discover the new site’s enhanced organization, helpful detail delivered in a layered approach, and engaging features at www.crystalcruises.com.
From the homepage, users are invited to explore the interactive Crystal Experience, as well as descriptive content about destinations, Crystal Adventures shore excursions and featured special offers. A comprehensive Cruise Guidebook includes much of the nitty-gritty information about traveling and cruising from the old site, but it’s organized in any easier-to-use fashion.
A plus for agents? From any page within the destination section, site visitors may contact their travel agent directly or they may request that a Crystal Expert Travel Agency contact them.
At the sales gala, officials told agents that another big perk of the new site is coming soon. Within five or six months, your clients will be able to access a real-time booking system for shore excursions, spa treatments and specialty restaurant reservations. The existing system is a pre-request system and not live inventory.
Also coming soon is an online pre-check-in process that will improve Crystal’s data for passenger arrivals to the ship. Crystal officials said that currently if a client is late to the ship and has made his or her own flight arrangements, the line may have no idea where they are – and whether to hold a ship or not. With the new site and the introduction of this new feature, clients will be able to enter that information, so the cruise line can make the appropriate decision or call airlines to check status.
Crystal Symphony Enhancements
Crystal Symphony, which had many upgrades in a 2006 drydock, will undergo additional enhancements in a September drydock. When completed, the line will have spent a total of $50 million on the refurbishments over the past three years.
Anecdotally, agents attending the gala clapped when learning that Crystal plans to replace the large chair in certain categories of accommodations onboard Crystal Symphony with a small “love-seat-sized” leather sofa. Previously, the line had couches but replaced them with the chair in 2006 drydock, a move that didn’t go over well with clients. So, the line is working to place sofas back in those cabins.
Other refurbishments? The line plans to renovate the Crystal Penthouses and change the configuration of those. The outdoor balcony will be reduced a bit to allow other interior spaces, including the dining area and bath, to enjoy close-up sea views.
The Crystal Symphony’s Prego specialty restaurant will also get a facelift. The pool area will be adapted as more of an outdoor living area, with lounges, tables and chairs, day beds and cabanas. Crystal says it will eliminate lines in the Lido restaurant by installing food islands.
The Shore Side
Crystal reports it also will pay more attention to the independent traveler and will maintain “open hours” at the Shore Desk on port days. The goal is to assure that those who wish to explore on their own don’t feel shut out.
Most cruise lines close the shore desk on port days to concentrate on their own shore trip operations. With the new policy, Crystal says its guests will have flexibility to do what they wish with the assistance of a port expert available to assist.
In addition, new detailed port maps will be unveiled for European cruises within a few weeks. Those maps will also assist guests who wish to walk around a port destination see the top sites and understand where resources are located.
Please stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com today and tomorrow for two additional updates on the Crystal trade gala— including information from Gregg Michel, Crystal’s president and details about next year’s World Cruise.