Takeaways From Cruise Planners' Luxury Seminar


L-R: John Wilson, Terri Haas, Nancy Logan and Shawn Tubman.
L-R: John Wilson, Terri Haas, Nancy Logan and Shawn Tubman.

Once you sell a balcony to your clients, agents know it’s very rare those same customers to backtrack to a lower level of accommodations. The same can be said for selling a luxury cruise. If you entice clients to step up to a luxury brand just once, they'll usually desire to stay at that level.

Four sales experts from upscale and luxury cruise lines provided their ideas and tips to help agents get more luxury business during a Cruise Planners seminar for agents attending the organization's recent conference at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, FL.  

Following is a collection of gleanings from Shawn Tubman of Regent Seven Seas Cruises (www.rssc.com), Terri Haas of Compagnie du Ponant (http://en.ponant.com), Nancy Logan of Uniworld (www.uniworld.com) and John Wilson of Silversea Cruises (www.silversea.com).

Bump Up Your Sales

Paint the Picture: Many clients' views of luxury are rooted in the distant past. They conjur up a traditional, stuffy and rigid experience. So outline precisely what today's luxury cruising experience is all about. Explain that yes, there's still a level of sophistication but it's increasingly flexible and often casually elegant.

Focus on Flexibility: While luxury cruises of the past were mostly long voyages, today's luxury cruises are a good mix of different length voyages. Emphasize that seven- to 10-day luxury cruises are perfect for working professionals.

Talk Numbers: Lots of lines talk "luxury." But one way to assess whether your clients will get a true luxury experience is to look at crew-to-passenger ratios on each ship. These are dramatically more equal for luxury products than mass-market lines.

Show "Heightened Everything": Clients may say "oh the price is higher" when considering a luxury voyage, but executives stress that the entire vacation experience is heightened in most cases. So, while clients may balk at price initially, these are often the same people who greatly desire an elevated onboard experience. Plant the seed. You may not sell it this year, but you may next year. 

A Luxury Cruise for Everyone: Luxury cruising has different packaging - in the forms of ocean, river and niche line experiences. Know what type of vacation experience your clients like and match them up with the right luxury product. It's not one size fits all. Luxury can be glitz or it can be casual luxury. It can be a medium luxury ocean ship, a niche mega-yacht or a small river vessel.

Attention to Detail: It's not just the ship's hardware that constitutes luxury. Luxury is often defined as extreme attention to detail on a very personal level. Luxury lines anticipate guest needs before the guest does and provide highly personalized service. Stress those differences with concrete examples.

Like-Minded Guests: While people may like meeting international guests from across the globe, they also many still desire to sail with other consumers who have similar socio-economic income backgrounds or the same personal interests. Luxury clients often want to sail with guests “like me.” High-end enclaves of luxury within a mass-market ship are a new option, and while great for some clients, they may not be for all. A skilled agent can ascertain whether a specific client - based on his or her philosophy and social mindset - will be satisfied with the onboard level of luxury if they venture outside those enclaves to other parts of the ship.

Demographics are Changing: One big misperception about river cruising is that it’s strictly for older clients. Yes many mature travelers sail but the demographic is shifting somewhat. Younger and more active travelers are discovering that river cruising is a great way to see the heart of Europe or Asia. In Europe, many lines carry bicycles; these lines are seeing many active guests in their 30s and 40s.


John Wilson helps agents interested in learning more about selling luxury
John Wilson helps agents interested in learning more about selling luxury

Don't Overlook First Timers: While many clients will step up from a premium cruise to a luxury one, others booking luxury for 2013 are first-time cruisers. Luxury lines say that's more common than agents might think.

Formal May Not Mean All-Ship Formal: Even though most luxury lines often still have formal nights, some - but not all - lines say their dress code is essentially for the main dining room and that casual dining can still be had elsewhere on the ship. Check individual line policies about full-ship formality in public areas. Some lines' flexibility may help you sell a luxury cruise to guests who hate to dress up. 

Seek Out Multigenerational Groups: Luxury cruise ships are getting many new bookings for multi-generational groups. While many luxury ships don't have formal kids' programs, some do. It's not always about having a rock climbing wall or a formal supervised kids' program. For some parents and grandparents, it's more about “let’s take the kids and show them the world” in an immersive shore experience.

The Destination Rules: Luxury cruise itineraries are heavily focused on "the destination." Ships that carry an affluent clientele don't usually sail to the same ports each week. Instead, they often have unique itineraries to off-the-beaten-path locales or provide one-of-a-kind destination experiences ashore. This appeals greatly to experienced travelers.

Do the Math for Clients: Some affluent customers book a luxury cruise for their own vacation, but pick a more mass-market cruise for their family vacation; that's often based on price. Do the math. Luxury and high end premium experiences are more pricey than a mass-market brand but they also usually have more inclusions. Show side-by-side comparisons of not just the fare but such items as shore trips, wine with dinner, gratuities, port taxes and other fees - items often included within the luxury line's fare, but not that of the mass-market line. Clients may find a luxury family vacation more doable.

Priority May Not Apply Everywhere: When clients board a mass-market ship that offers priority boarding or priority tender service for suite guests, that doesn’t necessarily apply for the “return” tender on a shore trip. Are they standing at the dock with several hundred other guests? Carefully evaluate the offerings.

Flexibility OR More Amenities: Small luxury ships have more flexibility to adjust itineraries, to stay longer in a port if need be, to do what the clients onboard really want – rather than just sail at the exact appointed time. Larger luxury ships, in contrast, may have more activity options or nightly entertainment, though.

Tap Into the Onboard Cruise Consultant: When clients are onboard and caught up in the moment they often will book another cruise. Use the luxury line's onboard cruise consultant. In some cases, the lines say it's possible to talk to that cruise consultant ahead of time, before your clients board. Suggest a specific cruise for them to recommend to your clients. When the clients book onboard, you get the commission, the sales work is done, and clients return home already booked for their next cruise.

Go After Specialty Groups: Look at specialty groups, people interested in food and wine, opera or gardening buffs, and those who enjoy history. These types of groups are perfect for a luxury sailings; they like having the itinerary planned out in advance. They like special features or luxury touches. These groups have members who may never have thought of booking through an agent or even thought about a luxury cruise.

Switch Things Up: Luxury clients may love a small ship ocean sailing one year, but they more be more enticed by a river cruise the next or a bigger ship ocean cruise the following year. Think about the possibilities and mix things up for variety. Not everyone wants the same experience every year.

Tap into the Bucket List: The number one reason people take a luxury cruise is because of the destination. Find out your clients' desires for destinations. And then sell both the destination and the pure joy of experiencing it in a luxurious way. 

What tips do you have for selling luxury cruises? Care to share with your fellow agents?