How to Sell Cruises as a Holiday Gift Idea

Through November 16, Princess Cruises is running a “Great Escapes Sale” with up to $1,000 in savings. Seen here is the Regal Princess.
Through November 16, Princess Cruises is running a “Great Escapes Sale” with up to $1,000 in savings. Seen here is the Regal Princess.

It seems unbelievable, but the 2016 holiday season is almost here. One great sales opportunity is to market and sell cruises for 2017 as “holiday gifts.” Here are some sales and marketing tips from agent experts and cruise line executives to get you started.

Tap Into Local Business Organization’s Resources

Belong to the local Chamber of Commerce? Then tap into its resources. “We start promoting now in our Chamber’s weekly newsletter,” says Carol Wagner of Travel Leaders, Commerce Township, MI. She suggests copy saying: “The Holidays will be here before you know it. Thinking about Holiday gifts? It’s a great time to think about the gift of travel! Contact us for a gift certificate for travel as the perfect holiday gift.”

Know Your Clients’ Milestones

Eva Jenner, vice president, North America sales for Holland America Line, says that it’s imperative for agents to know clients’ key anniversaries and milestones. “Suggest that a cruise is a wonderful holiday gift to celebrate an anniversary, empty-nest year, milestone birthday, first date or whatever provides a conversation starter,” she says. A husband may wish to surprise his wife with a voyage gift that the duo can enjoy the following summer to re-revisit the spot they first met.

Luxury Travel Advisor’s ULTRA Summit

May 21-23, 2019 | Reunion | Kissimmee, FL

This exclusive, invite-only event focused on the luxury travel market brings together world-class travel agency owners and managers with the most opulent, luxury suppliers to cultivate collaboration, share insights, and help carve a path into the future of luxury travel.

Alternatively, a woman might wish to give her fiancé a fan cruise featuring his favorite musical group. Adult children may wish to jointly give a cruise of a lifetime to their parents as a holiday gift for an upcoming golden wedding anniversary. “The experience can come later as many gifts do but the special moment is reserved for the holiday,” stresses Jenner.

Target Luxury Clients

It’s now a luxury trend where more people are gifting experiences instead of giving traditional store-bought items. “The premier experience to share with loved ones has to be the gift of travel,” stresses Randall Soy, executive vice president of marketing and sales, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, who cites voyages to Alaska and the Mediterranean as popular. “We know many grandparents who have gifted a luxury cruise on our ships to their children and grandchildren so they can explore the world’s most fascinating destinations together as a family and create lifelong memories.”

Help Clients Forge a Path

But for those clients who might not have the funds to buy a holiday cruise outright, help them see how to do it over time. Perhaps get them excited about planning a gift they can give during next year’s holiday season.

Cindy Chau, business development manager for western CanadaCarnival Cruise Line, suggests agents consider suggesting clients to take the money (or a part of it) that the parent or grandparent would normally spend on their adult children or grandchildren throughout the year and instead save it for the cruise gift: “Small gifts throughout the year can soon be forgotten whereas an amazing cruise experience with your loved ones will create memories that last a lifetime.”

Send Your Own Value-Add

Alex Pinelo, vice president of key accounts for Norwegian Cruise Line, says the holidays can be stressful so what better time to think about giving the gift of travel?: “Agents can send to their clients a card or an e-mail that reads, ‘My gift to you,’ offering the client a store gift card to buy the perfect dress, bathing suit or hat for their next cruise.” Pinelo notes that the gift card might look like a check and the included note can mention, “to be redeemed at ABC Travel upon deposit of your next cruise.”

Use Social Media

Educate your clients about the ease of giving travel as a gift. Drew Daly, general manager of network engagement and performance, Cruises Inc., CruiseOne and Dream Vacations, suggests sending, “Did You Know?” messages to customers, both on social media and via e-mail. Similarly, Liane Lance, co-owner of Picture This Travel, a member agency in Kansas City, Mo., says it’s optimum to put a post on your business or personal Facebook page with a photo to grab the client’s attention.

“For example, use one of your own pictures of a gorgeous beach, but add a border with Christmas lights, and maybe a Santa or snowman added to the picture,” Lance says. You might say, “Santa Says You Need a Holiday Getaway,” if the client wants to buy a gift for his or her spouse or partner. Alternatively, just say, “You Could Be the Perfect Santa,” urging clients to consider a surprise holiday gift — a cruise for a 2017 birthday, anniversary or other personal event.

Promote Value and Savings

Fall is often a less busy travel period with good cruise deals. Lance also says booking early (such as buying this year for a cruise departing next year) means getting the best deals. Agents might summarize those deals and tell clients, “This is the best time to buy a gift cruise, if you’re planning to give it to someone as a holiday gift.”

Among the deals currently out there? Through November 16, Princess Cruises is running a “Great Escapes Sale” with up to $1,000 in savings for cruises to the Caribbean, the Panama Canal, Mexico, Hawaii, the California Coast, Australia and New Zealand, Southeast Asia, South America and the South Pacific. Per-person fares, double occupancy, for this sale start at: Mexican Riviera — $499 interior, $749 balcony; Australia and New Zealand — $1,199 interior, $1,999 balcony; and Hawaii — $1,599 interior, $2,399 balcony. Visit

Trade Show Teasers

It’s advantageous to think out of the box to present “gifting” ideas to potential customers, says Daly. He urges agents exhibiting at a trade show to wrap boxes in holiday gift wrap or a branded agency logo gift wrap from Shutterfly and display them on a table with a cruise brochure sticking out of the box.

“Keeping in the festive spirit, they can take some stockings and hang them from the trade show table with a cruise gift certificate poking out of the top,” Daly adds.

Uncover Die-Hard Fans

Tap into clients’ musical and entertainment interests, and personal passions like baseball, bicycling or beer, to name a few. A wife might buy a beer-themed river cruise for her husband and put an ornate beer stein under the Christmas tree with the cruise gift certificate inside. Or for fans of the movie, “Frozen,” Disney Cruise Line entices with a new stage show, “Frozen, A Musical Spectacular,” exclusively on Disney Wonder cruises from Galveston, TX, starting November 10.

For fans of Broadway or West End theater, Seabourn Cruise Line will introduce “An Evening with Tim Rice,” starting with Seabourn Encore in January 2017, but extending throughout the fleet during the year. An acclaimed English musical theater lyricist, Rice has won three Oscars, three Tonys, three Golden Globes and several Grammys. Or, Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival LIVE line-up offers concerts and comic performances. On March 2 and March 3 respectively, Tim McGraw will perform on Carnival Breeze and Carnival Valor, while Jeff Foxworthy is expected June 21 and 22 on Carnival Freedom and Carnival Ecstasy, respectively.

Throughout 2017, Holland America Line’s Culinary Arts Centers will transform into “America’s Test Kitchen” facilities with new culinary programming.
Throughout 2017, Holland America Line’s Culinary Arts Centers will transform into “America’s Test Kitchen” facilities with new culinary programming.

Suggest a Joint Gift

Sometimes “it takes a village.” So, if your clients want to give a future cruise to their parents for a milestone anniversary, but can’t afford it, you might suggest they ask their siblings to help with the trip cost. Taking that a step farther, the client can explain to other family and good friends that in lieu of individual gifts for the May anniversary, the group would like to pool resources to give “mom and dad” a holiday cruise gift.

Clients can ask for a celebratory greeting card from friends and family for a keepsake book for the couple, and then, as an aside, note that donations are happily accepted and appreciated, but they are optional. By saying, “it’s the card that counts,” clients won’t offend and yet many people will send a donation. Small amounts add up.

Entice With Culinary and Wine

Do certain clients love local culinary and wine events or wine weekends in the country? Ask one spouse about buying a wine-themed river cruise for the other spouse as a holiday gift. Culinary buffs might, alternatively, be interested in booking an ocean cruise with a culinary bent. Oceania Cruises’ hands-on cooking classes on Marina, for example, include Amore Italiano, At Home in Sicily and Cote d’Azur, among others.

In September, Holland America introduced its new partnership with “America’s Test Kitchen.” Throughout 2017, the fleet’s Culinary Arts Centers will morph into ATK facilities with new programming. First to get the new program are Westerdam this month and Nieuw Amsterdam in November. Celebrity Cruises’ newest culinary venue, Sushi on Five, boasts an à la carte menu by expert sushi Chef Yoshikazu “Yoshi” Okada.

Compare Inclusions

Help clients compare features for their gift cruise purchase. Yes, a $499 per person cruise can be fun and rewarding for the recipient, and has great inclusions such as regular dining, most entertainment and lectures. But the recipient may have limits for out-of-pocket costs and extra-fee items like shore trips, alternative dining or airfare. So, the agent might create a side-by-side comparison of various cruises as well as suite options, which often have additional inclusions.

Most inclusive are fares of upper premium and luxury lines. For example, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ fares include everything from airfare to shipboard amenities, youth programs and even shore excursions. Soy says that inclusive fares allow gift recipients “to focus on the experience, rather than the cost.” But if clients opt for a contemporary or premium line with fewer inclusions, the gift-giver might consider secondary gifts that other family members can buy — like paying for prepaid gratuities or a drink package. That adds to the fun of the gift presentation as well.

Tap Into the Emotion of Video

It’s fantastic when a loved one opening a holiday gift box realizes they’re going on a dream cruise. Daly suggests agents create a video of clients unwrapping their holiday gift of a future voyage. Agents who secure the client’s permission might then share the video with potential customers both at trade shows and on electronic medium.

Think Gift Certificate

Many clients wish to book a specific cruise departure as a gift, but there’s another option. “Generally, when my clients are seeking to buy a cruise as a holiday gift for a partner, friend or family member, I always point out that they shouldn’t book a specific cruise and recommend buying a travel gift card instead,” stresses Marni Becker, director of cruise sales, Protravel International, New York, NY. “That way the gift receiver has the option to choose what they want to do and have the cruise tailored to their specific needs and wishes.”

Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales, Avoya Travel, also touts cruise gift certificates, which he says can be purchased in advance at very little risk.“This is a great option for those clients who want to gift a cruise but are concerned with scheduling conflicts or other issues,” he says, noting that trip details can then be worked out once the gift is received.

For fans of the movie, “Frozen,” Disney Cruise Line entices with a new stage show, exclusively on Disney Wonder cruises from Galveston, TX.
For fans of the movie, “Frozen,” Disney Cruise Line entices with a new stage show, exclusively on Disney Wonder cruises from Galveston, TX.

Make It Personal

Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and trade support and service, Royal Caribbean International, tells agents she speaks to that starting in July or anytime in the fall, “send a real Christmas card out to your client base with a lovely [hand-written] note inside that says: “Are you looking for a holiday gift that fits everyone in your family? I have the perfect gift that won’t break, go out of style and everyone will remember always. In addition, it appeals to everyone in the family. Please call me if you are interested.”

Creative “Wow” Presentation

When selling a cruise as a gift, it’s important to share how you can create the “wow” factor for the recipient when they open the gift, says Rob Belles, independent vacation specialist, Cruises Inc., Rockford, IL. Many years back, he and his wife Lynn, also a Cruises Inc. agent, gave their daughters, 8 and 13 at the time, a Carnival cruise for Christmas. As a result, “telling this story to our clients is what sells the idea of giving a cruise as a gift,” Belles says. 

“Since giving the gift of a cruise is in the future and can’t really fit into a box, we created a sequence of gifts that could be opened in any order and provided hints to what the real Christmas present was — the Carnival cruise.”

First, the girls opened a small box with a necklace, then a fancy dress [perfect for a cruise formal night] and accessories such as hair ties. Then they opened the gift with a facemask and snorkel which generated some excitement,” Belles says. Next were boxes that held an airplane photo and airline tickets, respectively.  

“My daughters were thrilled as they thought we were going to Florida on vacation,” Belles quips. But the final box had a wrapped envelope with the family’s cruise documents and “the girls were in total disbelief. We enjoyed watching their faces as they unwrapped the mystery clues to our family vacation.”