With New Year’s Day just a few days away, Travel Agent asked cruise travel agents, cruise line executives and consortia/franchise/host group executives about their resolutions for 2014.
What would they personally like to achieve or improve for the coming year? And what "resolution" they'd like to see for the cruise industry or for agencies?
Photo by Susan J. Young
Rivers, Promotions, WiFi and NCFs
Stephanie Serino, luxury cruise consultant, Tzell Travel Group, New York, NY, says her New Year’s resolution is to take a river cruise in Asia; she says Mekong River and Myanmar itineraries are expanding and she must personally have an Asian river experience to accurately describe it to her clients.
In addition, “my wish for the cruise lines [as a resolution] for 2014 --and I believe I speak for everyone -- is free Wi-Fi,” she says emphatically. “That goes for hotels too, but the ships charge such preposterous rates for such slow connections, and we can’t just walk down to the local Starbucks to check e-mail at sea.”
Candie Steinman, who owns a CruiseOne agency with her husband Dick in Fort Myers, FL, says: “My New Year’s resolution is to expand my group and river cruise business. I believe selling river cruises is the best way to increase my bottom line.”
Steinman's wish for any cruise lines that are making 2014 resolutions is to definitely continue such promotions as Celebrity’s 1-2-3 option as “these really help us to sell.”
Arvid Olson, owner of a Travel Leaders agency in Palm Coast, FL says, “our goal for 2014 is to narrow our focus even more for sales and promotions on a few key preferred suppliers.” He would like his agency to continue the 15 percent to 25 percent growth rate it’s enjoyed for the past five years.
Olson’s wish for the lines? “I’d like to see more [oceangoing] cruise lines reduce or eliminate the non-commissionable portion of their fares,” Olson says as “they are becoming less competitive to do business with compared with river cruises and land packages.”
Jo Kling, president, Landry & Kling, Events at Sea, and her team
On the meeting and incentive side, Jo Kling, president, Landry & Kling, Events at Sea, Coral Gables, FL, says her team’s New Year’s resolution is “to introduce several new special-interest cruise groups and charters that target unique interests, catering to the ‘cruise-ready’ populations who haven't yet had a compelling reason to take a cruise.” She’s also striving for enhancement of her firm’s online reservation & registration system and ease of access for commissionable travel agent bookings of special interest cruises
Kling's "resolution wishes" for the cruise lines include continued development of new itineraries as well as greater investment in onboard service training in proportion to new ship hardware. “Service is and should be the main distinction of a cruise,” Kling emphasizes, noting that “when service is inadequate, especially on a big ship, word-of-mouth [becomes a problem] and repeat business suffers.”
Most importantly, Kling says the lines need to better “recognize they're not manufacturing a product where one size fits all. They're delivering a personal life experience that's different from a hotel. If it’s not different, why bother to cruise again versus taking a land vacation?”
|Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion|
A Team Approach, Marketing Success
Brad Tolkin, co-president, World Travel Holdings, Roslyn Heights, NY, says his New Year’s wish is for his firm is to “three-peat” as one of the Achievers’ 50 Most Engaged Workplaces. “Our formula is very simple,” he says. “Treat your employees well and, in turn, they will deliver a remarkable experience to our customers.”
If Tolkin could pick a resolution for the cruise lines, “it's all about the product," he believes. “The only way to increase prices and the number of cruisers is to deliver a superior product.”
Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion, Irving, TX, says one of the most rewarding parts of her job is working with agents to help them with their marketing plans to acquire new business. In 2014, Friedman wants to spend more one-on-one time with agents to help them brainstorm new creative ideas and differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
As for what she'd love to see from cruise lines in 2014, “it never hurts to wish big,” Friedman stresses. “Wouldn’t it be great if all cruise lines made a New Year’s resolution to compensate agents for their efforts in selling pre-booked shore excursions, specialty dining, spa and beverage packages?”
Scott Koepf, vice president of sales, Avoya Travel, Vista, CA, says his New Year’s wishes are for “only positive events and developments for our industry and that there are no negative events for our industry in all of 2014. Our New Year’s resolution is to see prices go up and sales to go up even higher.”
As for what he’d hope the cruise lines’ resolve to do in 2014, he’d like the lines to place extra emphasis and “a burning desire to help their agency partners be extraordinarily successful in the New Year."
What’s the New Year’s resolution at Cruise Holidays? “In 2014, we want to become even more relevant to our collective customers so that our marketing efforts are as beneficial as possible to our franchisees, our suppliers and frankly, our budget,” says Kevin Weisner, senior vice president, Cruise Holidays, Plymouth, MN.
Weisner, who has worked in the business since 1986, wishes cruise lines would better maintain price integrity in the new year, adding that pricing patterns today are very similar to those 30 years ago. “Unfortunately, that duration has really conditioned a large portion of cruise consumers to expect a reward for buying late -- demanding price reductions and devaluing the perception of what a cruise vacation is worth,” Weisner says. “Pulling a phrase from the 1980s…’just say no.’”
Personal Contact, Good Wave Season
Bob Lepisto, president SeaDream Yacht Club, Miami, FL, has a New Year’s resolution to connect much more personally with travel professionals about commission opportunities in selling his luxury yachting product. “Our current world of e-mail, text, Twitter, Facebook …unfortunately, decreases our personal connections and relationships which are still critical today," Lepisto says.
For 2014, he would also like agents to resolve to “double your in-person ‘face time’ selling over that which you accomplished in 2012 and 2013.” Lepisto urges agents to increasingly get out of their homes and offices and into the community in a proactive professional manner, as "it's simply far too easy as times get better to become an order taker as opposed to a seller. Never stop selling.”
Carnival Cruise Lines had a tough start to the year in 2013. Joni Rein, Carnival’s vice president of worldwide sales, Miami, FL, thanks agents for their support throughout the year and believes “2014 will be a phenomenal year for our relationship...keep those emails coming.”
Her resolution for agencies is to get more advisors onboard to experience her line's product for the first time or as a refresher. “We're doing all we can to get them onboard through our travel agent giveaways,” says Rein.
Jeff Drew, senior vice president of sales, American Queen Steamboat Company, Memphis, TN, says, “My 2014 resolution is continue to market with those agencies who give us a solid R.O.I. with our marketing dollars. We want all of our partners to have a better opportunity to sell and enhance their bottom line.”
In addition, he resolves “to make sure we all have a better understanding of selling travel in America. We have a beautiful country, rich in history.”
From another cruise line executive’s perspective, “my personal resolution for all cruise line suppliers and travel professionals is that our segment – cruise -- has a very strong WAVE season,” says Vicki Freed, senior vice president sales and trade support, Royal Caribbean International, Miami, FL. “Catching as many bookings in the first couple of months truly defines the outcome of the year.
Freed says she resolves to continue to step up support for trade professionals and also highlight why a travel advisor is the best person to consult about which brand or ship is the right choice.
If Freed could pick a good New Year’s Resolution for travel advisors? “I would like travel professionals to help articulate why ‘cruising is the better vacation,’” she says. “Together, if this message is louder than any other message out there - we as suppliers couldn't build ships fast enough.”
For travel agents only: What’s your New Year’s 2014 resolution for your cruise selling business in 2014? What would you love to see cruise lines to put on their “resolution” list? Provide your feedback below.