|L to R: Christine Duffy, president and CEO, CLIA; Karin Viera, CTC, Vice President of Sales & Member Services, Vacation.com; Joni Rein, VP Worldwide Sales, Carnival Cruise Lines; Andy Stuart, EVP Global Sales & Passenger Services, Norwegian Cruise Line; Dondra Ritzenthaler, SVP Sales & Trade Support & Services, Celebrity Cruises; Nicole Mazza, Chief Marketing Officer, TRAVELSavers; Jan Swartz, EVP Sales, Marketing & Customer Services, Princess Cruises/Cunard Line; Michelle Fee, CEO CruisePlanners; Vicki Freed, SVP Sales & Trade Support & Services, Royal Caribbean International|
Target affinity groups, ask for the business, utilize future cruise sales programs and be available when your clients are. Those were among the top tips provided by cruise industry and top agency executives at Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) cruise3sixty conference in Vancouver.
Here's Part 2 of our series on a discussion moderated by Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). Agents may read Part 1 at http://www.travelagentcentral.com/cruises/tips-agents-cruise-executives-sound-cruise3sixty-part-1-41365
Target Affinity Groups: It’s really important for agents to target affinity groups, believes Jan Swartz, executive vice president, sales, marketing and customer services, Princess Cruises and Cunard Line.
Why? Swartz said that forming a group cruise based on a specific interest, such as scrapbooking, music, religious organization or gardening, for example, definitely attracts people who might not normally cruise.
“That’s how we capture many first time cruisers to Princess,” Swartz said. While the cruise is just “the setting,” once onboard people fall in love with cruising. Selling affinity groups also gets agents “scale” than they get by selling single cruises, one at a time. “Do large groups and have it be a much more valuable transaction,” said Swartz.
Use cruise line tools and talk to your business development manager about ways to get started. Joni Rein, vice president, worldwide sales, Carnival Cruise Lines, added that an affinity group might start at 20 cabins, then grow to 50 and then, at times, even become a charter. “Think aspirationally,” she said.
Consider Corporate Groups Too: Duffy noted that affinity groups tend to go a “little bit viral” and then grow rapidly. She suggested to agents that they also expand their thinking beyond normal leisure affinity groups and consider the corporate group market.
“It doesn’t have to be [only] Fortune 500 companies,” she said, telling the agent audience that “there are lots of companies in your community looking for ways to motivate and reward their top producers.”
Upsell and Sell Ancillary Services: Are you leaving money on the table? Nicole Mazza, chief marketing officer, TRAVELSavers, said some travel advisors are. Her advice is to “upsell” and also earn more revenue by selling air [if your consortia or host group has commissionable product] or suggest to clients about a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay.
Tap Social Networking Channels: For agents to be highly successful in today’s world, “we have to talk about social media,” said Andy Stuart, executive vice president, global sales and passenger services, Norwegian Cruise Line.
Norwegian engaged in a highly visible and successful Facebook program during the cruise3sixty conference – communicating with travel agents via social networking. Stuart said businesses must go social in order to reach and communicate with their customers who are doing the same: “It’s a huge new opportunity to more effectively engage in more ways.”
Stay Current with Industry Developments: If you don’t read the press releases or follow cruise line moves, you may miss opportunities about new itineraries, ship features, cruise line promotions or destination experiences, according to Swartz. If a customer comes in and asks for a cruise in a particular region and the agent just read a press release about a new cruise offering in the region, that’s how knowledge can help you make a sale.
Duffy said those newsy items also give you an excuse to be in touch with your customers and contacts. Stuart said new ship launches also allow agents to take advantage of all the publicity generated. Build an affinity group around the hoopla, new itinerary or new features that are part of a new ship launch. “It’s a big opportunity,” he said.
|Dondra Ritzenthaler of Celebrity Cruises|
Ask for the Business: Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president, sales and trade support and services, Celebrity Cruises, said that some agents still tell her “I was just too nervous to ask for a credit card” at the critical point where they could have closed the sale.
Ritzenthaler said, it’s good to ask: “So what kind of card can I take to get you started on an amazing vacation?” Don’t be afraid to ask for the business. “You will rock and roll if you will get over that fear of asking for a sale,” she stressed.
Be Available Beyond 9 to 5: Home-based agents have the ability to tell clients, “I’m here nights and weekends, checking messages,” said Michelle Fee, co-founder and CEO, Cruise Planners. So tell clients: “I’m here to help you.”
So if the client has an air issue getting to a cruise or needs a change in hotel arrangements while on a business trip, they know the agent will likely be able to assist.
But in a digital age, even brick-and-mortar agencies whose doors close at 5 p.m. might arrange for one agent to be “on call” via text or email so clients whose trip is interrupted or just need to ask a question about their upcoming trip have a resource.
Use a Host to Create A Bigger Presence: Individual agents who work for themselves should consider getting a host or consortia affiliation to bring credibility. Host programs can make a small agency seem much larger than it really is.
“We all have unbelievable marketing programs, with technology far beyond [what the individual agent could create],” said Fee, noting that her Cruise Planners agents have their own applications allowing customers to book off their phone.
And with a Cruise Planners mobile program, the travel agent can be shopping in the grocery aisle, get a call, take a client call and look up the client’s booking confirmation number right from a smart phone. The services and technology “bring credibility that make you larger than life,” she emphasized. “Brochures are also branded to look like they’re coming from you.”
Duffy also said you can still “look local” and provide personalized services, and have that boutique agency appeal, but have a much bigger reach in terms of resources when you join with a host agency or consortia.
|Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean International|
Package for Differentiation: Stuart said one of his line's most successful agency partners, WMPH in South Florida, which incidentally stands for “We Make People Happy,” has several strengths. One is technology, another is the personal touch, and the third is packaging.
“They didn’t just pull a product off the shelf, but they started to package,” said Stuart, noting that there is no way anyone can compare their offering to others. They utilize packaging for such cruise destinations as Alaska and Hawaii. They include features no one else has.
The result is that price is irrelevant. Duffy said the idea of packaging a cruise with other elements to create a one-of-a-kind vacation is “brilliant.” Then the customer is not shopping based on price, but shopping instead based on value, service and the relationship.
Have a Maniacal Focus: “Anytime you want to be successful, you really have to focus – working harder and smarter than anyone else,” said Ritzenthaler. Agents have to be proactive.
For example, agents should do the little things. Ritzenthaler has some agencies who check with the cruise line for the specific schedule when direct mail pieces will drop. Then then those agents follow up with clients via postcard two weeks later, and a week or so later make a proactive phone call. .
That type of focus means you’re going to have three points of contact – the original direct mail, the postcard reminder and the personal phone call. “That’s when it really becomes powerful,” Ritzenthaler said. When the sale happens and the customer sails, then follow-up asking about how the vacation was. “Agents can be incredibly successful if they simply find the focus,” she said.
Tap Into Supplier Tools and Future Cruise Sales Programs: The assistance is out there. “If you like online training, we have it, if you want face-to-face, we do that as well,” said Vicki Freed. “However you want to learn we’re going to serve you.”
Swartz urges agents to take the “future cruise” course within Princess Academy that will help them take advantage of the future cruise incentive the client gets while onboard.
So the agent can pre-promote the offer and clients will be primed to learn more when onboard. If they book a future cruise onboard, they qualify for an onboard credit that’s combinable with other offers.The client doesn’t have to pick a specific future cruise sailing and the rebooking qualifies for a reduced deposit.
“It becomes a lead for you and you can see it on Polar Online,” said Swartz. And it primes clients, so if even if they forget to book onboard, Princess has a post-cruise offer. For up to 60 days after they get home, they can still book and receive slightly less onboard credit and a reduced deposit.
Princess’ top producing agencies get 40 percent of their business directly from that future cruise program. These agencies get four re-bookings onboard for every 10 cruises sold. “It’s an annuity for the agent and for Princess,” said Swartz, “I really encourage you…look at future cruise sales.”
Another reason for that approach? It’s a great way to lock in a stream of business, Swartz noted, so the agent can use their time to prospect for new customers and grow their business.
Go After Land Clients: Freed suggest agents talk to land-based clients. “Those are great prospects,” she said. Rein concurred and recommended agents break down the value of features they get on a cruise versus those with a land based vacation. “Show them what the different is between land and cruise,” Rein said.
Secure Testamonials from Clients: “You have to remember that testamonials are really your best referrals,” said Karin Viera, vice president of sales and member services, Vacation.com. She urged the agents in the audience to use testamonials “especially with new cruisers.”
These testamonials provide credibility, both for your agency and the vacation booked.
Cultivate Referrals From Cruise Clients: “Cruisers know other cruisers, ask them to refer people,” said Fee.
Foster Passion for the Business: Mazza says having passion for the business is critical. Hire people with that in mind. Fee concurs noting that her group teaches people to be an agent; most have never been agents, but they are cruisers and they have a passion for travel.
If your agency is seeking to hire young people, look for those who have done a lot of travel, people who traveled in college and out of college. Those are the travel leaders of tomorrow and it’s a way to start bringing more young people into the business.
Swartz took a different tactic: “Retirement is overrated,” she said, and people tell her they want a new career, want another chapter, and they want a great way to earn a living. Whatever the age of your staff, though, be sure they have a passion for selling travel.