Making Waves: Tips for Keeping Ocean Cruisers Engaged

Clients who are nervous about traveling anytime soon will feel more comfortable booking a cruise further out. Shown here is the Amalfi Coast. (Getty Images)

Major oceangoing cruise lines report decent booking numbers for 2021, but how can travel advisors keep clients interested and the agency revenue flowing? While there’s no magic formula as every advisor’s situation or agency situation is different, Travel Agent has gleaned these ocean selling tips from cruise experts.   

Think Further Out: As the end of the year looms and some ocean lines have “paused” voyages through early next year, be sure to not only use 2021 cruise options in communicating with clients or prospects but also 2022 and 2023 voyages. Some cruise lines have even introduced early 2024 voyages. Stretching the timeline further out is particularly helpful when chatting with stressed out clients who are nervous about traveling anytime soon. They’ll feel more comfortable booking a cruise further out and can start savoring the “anticipation” of the voyage. Their enthusiasm could also spill onto family and friends, resulting in more bookings.

Team Up: Partner with businesses that have strong communities of their own and have also been challenged by the pandemic. That’s the advice of Charles Sylvia, vice president, industry and trade relations, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). “I see CLIA members working with craft breweries, wine bars, patisseries, and mom-and-pop bookstores to promote cruise groups,” he says. “Any business using 'artisanal,' 'bespoke' or 'craft' in their name or to describe their offerings typically has a loyal following of customers who have money.” 

So, reach out to these business owners. “Propose extending their brand’s reach with a shared cruise experience, which can deepen and further solidify the loyalty of their customers,” Sylvia says. That also can “create a new revenue stream for you both.” 

Enhance Specialty Knowledge: Enhanced knowledge can foster future revenue. Sign up for free virtual online specialist courses 24-7 at Travel Agent University; these include courses by Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Ponant, Crystal, other lines and destinations. Also, many cruise lines, cruise consortia, host agencies and franchise organizations are offering virtual webinars that can enhance cruise product knowledge or help you run your business.

Increase Personal Engagement: Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and trade support and service, Royal Caribbean International, emphasizes that “this is the time to actually increase your ‘engagement’ with clients and prospects for the long term by picking up the phone and simply checking in with them.” Tell them you were thinking of them. Ask how they’re doing. “A simple proactive phone conversation can make a difference for long-term loyalty,” Freed says, noting that it’s important to show the client or prospect that you care about them. 

Ask them how their family is doing. Then, when they’re ready to plan their cruise, they’ll remember you asked about them. “You do not need to be selling them anything,” Freed says, adding that often clients or prospects will share that “We’re so ready to take a vacation!” She says that’s the advisor’s cue to say, “Many of my other clients have said the same thing,” and then progress into such soft questions as “Where are you dreaming about vacationing? Any idea of when you think you might want to travel and with whom? Would you like me to keep in touch with you on information and even specials or deals as they come across my desk?” 

Talk with clients about giving the gift of an ocean cruise as a holiday gift. Shown here is the Owner’s Suite on Oceania’s Riviera.

Tap into Offers: Look for advisor value-adds that can help with purchases, such as office supplies or equipment when monthly revenue flow isn’t normal. At press time, Atlas Ocean Voyages, a new small-ship, luxury adventure line, was offering an immediate $500 American Express gift card to travel advisors for every stateroom booking and a $750 gift card for every suite booking, in addition to the normal 15 percent commission when the client sails. 

Set Up Virtual Presentations: “Now is an excellent time to leverage online presentations because they’ve become so mainstream that everyone is comfortable with them,” says Christy Mahon, franchise owner and vacation specialist, Dream Vacations, Branchville, N.J. She does that by being front and center with them and creating her own series of weekly online sessions, #WeWillTravelAgainEvents, promoted through social media, e-mails and local community forums.

“Everyone has a bucket list and with travel being paused, there’s no better time to capture people’s imagination,” Mahon emphasizes. Her programs focus on destinations and experiential travel to inspire clients. She sometimes asks suppliers to co-host, such as Princess Cruises for Alaska cruisetours or, Celebrity Cruises for Galapagos cruising. Results? She says she has captured new prospects but also “I’m engaging with ‘quiet’ prospects who’ve been receiving my emails for years but never booked.” 

Take Advantage of Remote Conferences: Conferences can be a treasure trove for advisors seeking to enhance skills and cruise knowledge. This year, most conferences have “gone virtual.” Avoya Travel won’t hold its planned conference at sea, instead replacing that with two four-day online virtual events (October 19-22 and December 1-4). The good news is that advisors not planning to attend now can. These virtual sessions can also help advisors prepare for a “non-traditional” 2020-2021 Wave Season. Avoya’s December content will include health/safety enhancements; updates on products and protocols; and the “new normal” of life while traveling in a post-COVID-19 world.  

Update Your Mobile/Web Site: Use free time now to enhance mobile sites or Web sites with new technology or with new content that can provide “touch points” for talking with clients. How about “Five Cruise Destinations Everyone Needs to Visit in a Lifetime” or “Best Luxury Cruises for Wine Enthusiasts” or a video of “Soaring Down the World’s Steepest Zip Line.” Or perhaps initiate a “Where in the World?” photo or video and encourage clients to guess the location or cruise ship it’s taken on. Offer a nominal prize (drawn from all entries), change photos weekly, and keep clients returning. Promote on social media and entice “friends of friends” to look. 

Promote Gift Giving: Tap into the upcoming holiday season. Talk with clients about giving the gift of an ocean cruise as a holiday gift. Also, chat with any client who will celebrate a 25th or other milestone wedding anniversary or whose spouse will celebrate a milestone birthday next year or beyond. Suggest what a great holiday gift surprise a future celebratory cruise could be.

Those buying a gift cruise or celebrating a special occasion also may be willing to splurge on a bit more upscale accommodations (particularly with today’s advantageous cruise pricing/deals). For example, they could “step up” from their “normal” balcony stateroom or entry level suite on Oceania CruisesMarina to its Owner’s Suite, with 2,000 square feet of space, Ralph Lauren Home furnishings and butler service. 

Plant the Seeds, Inspire Dreams: “My instinct regarding marketing is not to promote sales and offers, but rather to inspire people to dream big for when they’re ready to travel again,” says Mahon. She’s “planting seeds” now to reap the rewards in 2021 and 2022. “This is a soft-sell strategy as that’s what I’m comfortable with in this environment,” she says. Keeping her eyes on the prize, Mahon’s perspective is that “it’s a long-game — not a quick fix for my business.”

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