One of the hottest new revenue streams for travel advisors is “the expedition cruise,” yet many agents are a bit leery of jumping into the market.
Increasingly, there are more players in this market. They include ultra-luxury Silversea Cruises with two (soon to be three) expedition ships; Un-Cruise Adventures, a small-ship firm that operates off-the-beaten path cruises in Alaska, Hawaii and Mexico’s Sea of Cortez; Hapag-Lloyd, a European company with an expedition ship, Hanseatic, that’s headed in 2014 to the Russian Far East; National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions, an experienced operator in the Arctic, Antarctica and the Galapagos, and others.
Advice From an Expert
Travel Agent asked Ralph Iantosca, owner of GoGirl Travel (www.gogirl.travel), a Virtuoso agency, about tips for selling expedition cruises. How do you get into the business? Who do you target? What’s the best approach?
Iantosca, who was honored as one of Travel Agent magazine’s Top 25 Agents in 2010, and has been a speaker at the Young Leaders conference in the past, provides his insight.
What types of clients are best for expedition cruises?
Look for clients who live an active lifestyle, seek “enrichment” on a deeper level, love to learn, and have a passion for the outdoors and wildlife.
If there is a client who’s interested but has physical challenges or has never done this type of trip, what do you recommend in the initial discussion?
Those with physical challenges or people who have never done anything in this genre would need to fully understand what they are getting into. They need to understand the full dynamics of the program before signing up.
Also, for those who seek a “classic” or “traditional” style of travel, I’d take the extra steps explaining the experiences.
For both groups, it’s good to show DVDs or tools the suppliers have so the client gets a true visual of what to expect. Then, let them choose if this is an experience for them.
Expedition cruises carry a higher price tag, typically, but the commission is high, so how do agents find these types of clients?
Most agents already have these customers and don’t realize it. I think the agents need to understand the value themselves. Find a way to communicate that value to the customer.
Expedition cruises are not commodity-based products. They’re not big ship cruises with thousands of passengers, so the suppliers don’t need to price low to fill their ships.
What about luxury tour goers? Is an expedition cruise luxurious enough?
I’d ask the agent selling or wanting to sell expedition cruises to describe luxury. Isn’t it luxury to travel to remote destinations and enjoy wildlife up close – an experience that’s not scripted?
And isn’t it luxury to have a vacation that isn’t prefabricated? It depends on the client’s definition of luxury as well.
Don’t be afraid to try as most clients "don’t know what they don’t know." If they are introduced to expedition cruises, they might do these types of trips over and over again.
How do you start? How do you promote such a cruise?
Get in touch with the supplier reps and have a client night. Or, join the Webinars the suppliers have and invite the clients; the Webinars are free and clients will get a better understanding from those who design and do these programs daily.
So many suppliers have DVDs and we send them to our clients directly. I then follow up to see if they’ve watched the DVD. I then set up a meeting and ask many questions about what they thought. I ask if anything created anxiety or fear, or what excited them?
Do you use the same tactics that you'd use for a typical luxury cruise?
Yes. I ask those who are new to luxury voyages or expedition cruises if they understand the value of the cruise fare. I make sure they understand the inclusions. I also assure they recognize that smaller ships have higher fares because they will be traveling with fewer guests.
I also talk about the design of the itinerary as normally the ships are in port when larger ships aren’t; that avoids crowds.
Yes, the luxury companies do charge a higher fare. But I always break down the fare on a daily per-diem showing the incredible value of what luxury voyages and expedition cruises offer.
Off-the-beaten path ports visited by expedition ships provide great bragging rights. From your experience, what cruise lines should agents consider when starting out?
Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic, Silversea Expeditions and Un-Cruise Adventures are three I’d start with.
How do you sell the experience, not just a cruise?
I sell the experience by showcasing that the expedition vessel will take you off-the-beaten-path to remote places not visited by crowds or the masses, and explain that these special experiences are worth it.
We also talk about the timeline. A traditional cruise ship would have a specific departure time and the focus is “the ship” whereas expedition cruising is about “the destination.”
So if bears are feeding near the water in remote Alaska, you can get up close. You don’t have to move on because an expedition ship’s schedule is more flexible and so you can really enjoy the experience.
A big ship could never get so close. The expedition vessel might have clients get in Zodiacs and go ashore for a closer look. It’s a more intimate way to enjoy the scenery.
Any other tips?
Get out there yourself and do these things. Most luxury travelers want to book with people who “know” not “hear”. Once you try these things, you are hooked.
Also, why stay in the commodity-based approach of selling cruises? With the online agencies doing rebates, and clients always checking fares to see if the price dropped with big luxury ships, why work in a genre full of turmoil and headaches?
Expedition experiences typically aren’t going to drop in price. They’re not going to be a commodity product. And the commission and client satisfaction are much higher.