Do Agents Say "Thumbs Up" or "Thumbs Down" for Early Wave Season?

The cruise industry's annual Wave Season is now under way. // Photo by Susan J. Young

As travel agents cruise into the annual cruise selling Wave Season, Travel Agent asked agents to assess the strength of this year’s "Wave." 

Jeff Leach enjoys the beach at Palma de Mallorca during a Mediterranean cruise. // Photo courtesy of Jeff Leach

Is it stronger than last year's Wave? Is it the same? Or, is it not as robust as it was last year in January? Also, what are agencies doing to drive more bookings?

Higher Sales for Early Wave

Overall, most of our cruise sellers said early Wave Season results are strong. “We're definitely seeing a better sales start than last year's Wave in winter 2014-15,” reported Jeff Leach, franchise owner and vacation specialist, CruiseOne, Omaha, NE.

“Many promotions the cruise lines are offering this season are easy for the client to understand, and include perks or savings in which they find great value,” he said.

His agency has bolstered its social media presence and personally reached out to clients waiting for that extra incentive to book.

Kelley Austin sent out inquiries late last year pre-Wave, and that's bringing good results in January. // Photo courtesy of Kelley Austin

Kelley Austin, Couples Travel Concierge and Cruise Planners franchise owner, Navasota, TX, is also seeing a better sales start than last year's Wave season in winter 2014-15. 

What does she attribute that to? "I think a large part is because I made a concerted effort to start promoting the 'idea' of packages and specials during Wave Season back in the late fourth quarter 2015." 

That worked, as some e-mail inquiries she's getting now are responses to "anticipatory" e-mails she sent out late in the year. 

For both outgoing emails and phone calls, she targeted clients who haven't traveled for the previous nine months or longer -- reminding them about starting the new year with new vacation plans. 

Marni Becker of Protravel on Hapag-Lloyd's Europa 2. // Photo courtesy of Marni Becker

Austin said suppliers also have a stronger presence in both social and mainstream media during this year's early Wave Season. That keeps travel top of mind with her clients.

In addition,"last night, I co-hosted a chamber of commerce mixer that was open to the public," said Austin. "I made sure to have a variety of travel brochures and talked about the current promotions."

Marni Becker, director of cruise sales for Protravel International, New York, NY, said that her agency doesn't market just during Wave but throughout the year, so cruises are always on the mind of agents and their clients.  

However, thanks to increased demand for cruises among her agency's luxury clients, "the first half of 2016 is stronger than at the same time last year with many of our partners," Becker said. 

Jack Fingerman, a Cruises Inc. independent vacation specialist, Mount Laurel, NJ, told us: “We’re seeing better sales to start 2016 than the start of 2015” and credits cruise line promotions.  

Jack Fingerman and his wife Joan are shown onboard Royal Caribbean International's Liberty of the Seas. // Photo courtesy of the Fingermans

“As a result of increased advertising on TV and in print, people are seeing first-hand the value of cruising," Fingerman said. 

“Images of activities on the ship, relaxing on the beach, the blue ocean and so on, are enticing people to get out of the cold, especially if they are living in the Northeast," he stressed. 

Fingerman is helping build sales by reaching out to his clients who haven’t booked in awhile – clients due for a cruise or land vacation.

"We're seeing a better sales start than last year's Wave in winter 2014-2015," said Michael Consoli, franchise owner, Cruise Planners, Atlanta, GA. He said the inclusive, value-added pricing implemented by both Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises helped his agency last year, and "in 2016, we are seeing those lines 'double down' on those offers — making them even better by including Wi-Fi, drink packages, specialty dining and so on."

Michael Consoli's clients are interested in river cruising as a way to see Europe. // Photo courtesy of Michael Consoli

In addition, Consoli said other lines, including Norwegian Cruise Line and Oceania Cruises, have added dining and beverage packages.

"So, now we have robust offers from all the lines that are providing slightly higher price points and providing an excellent value for the guest, which helps travel agents," Consoli explained. "Our clients are seeing the value and buying early and we all love that."

This month Consoli's agency is promoting these “semi-inclusive” rates by email, postal mail and a biannual magazine, which is now also digital. His agency also uses social media. "Our clients are responding," he said, adding that the agency takes full advantage of his franchise organization's marketing activities. 

River cruising is also hot right now, Consoli said. His clients are becoming more aware of a river cruise as a possible way to see Europe.

"We are seeing huge growth there with the river cruise line offers," he said, pointing to reduced air promotions, new itineraries and monetary savings promotions. His agency is promoting those offers and the choice of a river cruise at travel shows.  

Similar Sales to Last Year

While many agency personnel reported higher sales than last year, several also reported similar sales to last year "so far" -- but there's much time left in Wave Season. None of the agents reported lower early Wave period sales.  

Ellie Noyes (above in Italy) is seeing more e-mail marketing leads this Wave Season. // Photo courtesy of Ellie Noyes 

Ellie Noyes, director, vacation division, Acendas, a agency, Mission, KS, told Travel Agent: "I would rate our Wave season as being about the same as Wave season a year ago."

In 2015, her agency designed and launched a new vacation website and now it's begun a ramped-up marketing campaign on Facebook. "The number of new leads coming in through these sources, as well as the number of leads generated through our weekly e-mail marketing campaign, is slightly up over this time last year," Noyes reported. 

Thus far in Wave Season, Robin Katz, a Cruise Planners franchise owner in Miami, FL, is also experiencing about the same results as she did a year ago, but she stressed that 2015 was quite a strong year for her agency.

Plus, "after the combined frenzy of Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, clients are just starting to think about travel plans for 2016," Katz said.

Robin Katz is reaching out to clients via e-mail, Facebook and phone calls during the early Wave period. // Photo courtesy of Robin Katz

She believes that once the excitement of spending so much time with family and friends is gone, clients will want to begin making plans for spring vacation, summer vacation, a winter break and school holiday periods.

"This seems to be the trend at the start of the new year for vacation planning," Katz said. "Having a set date on the calendar to look forward to makes getting through the monotony of each month easier." 

She and an associate are proactively reaching out to clients through e-mail, Facebook and phone calls to let repeat guests know the value they will receive by booking in advance. "The added amenities being offered right now are plentiful and we don’t want them to miss out," Katz stressed. 

She's also shared many promotions on Facebook in the groups she's associated with, and said that is bringing in many new inquiries. As a result, Katz believes: "It's a healthy start for us for Wave Season 2016."