Top 10 Ways to Grow Your Travel Business From CLIA’s Cruise360

Adam Goldstein, chairman, CLIA Global, spoke to Cruise360 attendees about the "Top 10 Lessons That Will Help You Grow Your Business" // Photo by Natalie Maneval 

It wasn’t snazzy new ships or impressive technology that Adam Goldstein, chairman, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Global, focused on Thursday during his keynote address at the 11th annual Cruise360 conference in Vancouver, BC.

Instead, Goldstein delivered a strong, concise and passionate talk about his "Top 10 Lessons That Will Help You Grow Your Business." Agents and host or franchise agency executives liked the approach. 

“His message was absolutely on point and relevant to agents who are both business owners and front line agents,” says Jackie Friedman, president, Nexion, who was among 1,000-plus travel agents, trade executives and industry partners attending that opening session at the Vancouver Convention Centre. “If they take his message to heart, they will be more successful in the art of developing long term relationships with their clients.” 

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Similarly, Drew Daly, general manager, network engagement and performance for the Cruises Inc., CruiseOne and Dream Vacations brands, tells Travel Agent that the tips "provided a solid blueprint" for agents to take action, stand out and grow their business. "His presentation definitely will influence attendees to do something different, be strategic, innovative and focus on building their personal brand," Daly stressed. 

Goldstein, who is also president of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., parent company of Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, praised and thanked the attendees for "choosing" to be at Cruise360 and taking a break from their normal work to devote themselves to improving their abilities, knowledge and capabilities. 

Here's a snapshot look at Goldstein's 10 Lessons. 

Be Professional

“You are our connection to the consumers on which our business depends,” Goldstein told the travel advisors. “We often say ‘See your professional travel agent,' but you’re not a professional because you’re a travel agent. You’re a professional if you act like a professional -- if you do the things that professionals do."

For agents, that means practicing your craft [specialty]; reading up and staying aware of the latest information on cruise brands; knowing the latest ships, and knowing the myths and misconceptions consumers having about cruise vacations and how to combat those. 

Whether it's a lifetime career or a second career, it's something to be professional about, he stressed: “There is no substitute for that. This isn’t a game for amateurs, it's a game for professionals."

Own the Customer

“I cannot encourage this strongly enough -- to do what you can do 'to own' your customer relationships," Goldstein emphasized. "Our research has always shown that customers on average are not as loyal to an individual agent as individual agents tend to think that those customers are. They're switching around travel agents more than you might like.”

So, he urged agents to ask the right questions that will provide knowledge to keep those customers loyal, and to develop a robust database with the right fields for communicating the right information at the right times -- such as milestones in clients' lives or an affinity group focused on the customers' personal interests.  

Personalize

Adam Goldstein, CLIA Global's chairman // Photo by Susan J. Young

Historically, ships with 3,000 guests have delivered a very good product and guests have been very happy, but Goldstein acknowledges: “That’s been okay for the past, but today with the technology guests have, it’s not good enough anymore." 

He said it's paramount that agents personalize the agent-client relationship, understand the preferences of clients and know how to cater to them so they stick with the agent: "They want to book their travel with you. They feel you treat them as an individual and you are responsible to their needs, their tastes and their preferences." 

Simplify

“You’re in the information management business,” Goldstein told the audience, noting that the customer has "way, way too many choices about vacations for a customer to understand. I don't even care if they're an avid traveler, as you're the one who knows, but how should you use that information?"

An agent shouldn't tell the client about 100 ships to cruise on and 100 countries to visit, as that can completely overwhelm customers, he stressed. Instead, he recommended picking a limited number of choices that are the best for that client and “get the job done."

And don't rely -- as he says a best friend of his does -- on superb vocabulary or acronyms that people don't know or understand. Just simplify the right messaging, he says: "Position the conversation so that your expertise shows up in the few recommendations you make because you 'nailed it,' because you know whom you're talking to and you know what's likely to lead to a great vacation.” 

Build your Brand

What is a brand? "A brand is a set of ideas in the mind of a consumer," he said, adding that clients need to understand what the agent stands for and have a desire to connect to their agent. That takes work, so “you want to put your brand out in front of people in the places where it will resonate with them."  

While some experts may say individual brands don’t mean so much anymore, Goldstein emphasized that “at Royal Caribbean and throughout the industry, we don't buy it. We are big believers in the brand proposition. We will continue to invest heavily in what our brands stand for and we would expect you would want to do the same to maximize your success.”

Friedman concurred with Goldstein that building a personal brand is key: "Know what your brand stands for, demonstrate it and don't just articulate it." 

Innovate and Differentiate 

When agents are looking for "space in the marketplace" with an advantage they can sustain, innovation and differentiation count. "In our business we live for this," said Goldstein, citing his own brands' new Harmony of the Seas, the Quantum-class ships, Celebrity's "Project Edge" and AzAmazing Evenings.

“We are constantly working on positioning our brands and products and services in the space in the market where we can really flourish and you should do the same," he told the crowd. He suggested agents get involved in their community or online; come up with a formula that's distinctive for positioning within a certain space in the marketplace; and realize that doing so is “incredibly worthwhile."

Go Digital, Go Social

Most companies are immersed in finding out what it means to be digitally able. "It's very demanding," Goldstein acknowledged, as "there are so many choices, so many technologies, so much investment.”

Customers see both agencies and cruise lines on social media and while “I know that social media wasn’t’ invited for cruising but it might as well have been,” he quipped. "The passion people have for cruising is virtually unequaled."

Goldstein said social media is an amazing portal through which that passion gets expressed, and agencies want to be there whether they're brick and mortar or online because that's where the conversation is going on. Underneath that? "You must have mastery about the data about your customers and what they prefer," he told the audience. 

Think Ahead

“It is so easy in the daily/monthly fray to not take the time to step back and think, 'where is my business going in the longer term and how can I prepare for that,'" Goldstein said, noting that his company "strategic planning is a long-term framework for making current decisions." 

It’s not about deciding what to do in 2023, Goldstein told the audience, but rather, "a strategic plan says that if we think this is where we want to be in 2023, what do we need to do in 2016 so we that a maximized chance to get there."

When fall comes, Goldstein urged agents to pick a half day or a full day and “think about where am I going to take my business, and how do I get there by making the decisions today that will be helpful." 

Be Responsible

Agents should want to be perceived in their community as a leader, good citizen and honest person – all of which reflects well on their profession and their brand -- from Goldstein's perspective.

“There’s not a community in this world that doesn’t need help,” he said. His company's corporate headquarters is in Miami, and “if you’re a business person in Miami and you don’t help, there’s something wrong with you. There are so many needs, so find out what makes sense for your business.”

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and its brands have given back to the community via projects such as Make a Wish, breast cancer awareness and just recently the World Wildlife Fund, which spends about 20-25 percent of its budget for protection of the oceans.

If agents aren't involved in their community now, Goldstein's view is: “It’s never too late to help.” 

Act With Integrity

“There are no days off from integrity,” he added. “In this crazy world of 24-7 media and people 'tearing down' politicians, celebrities, athletes and so on at every opportunity, do you know how fast a pristine reputation can be gone just like that?”

Clients look to agents as professionals and for their expertise. "In order for them to continue to look up to you, you have to believe in your integrity," he said. Goldstein challenged the agents to make their agency business better by taking back and implementing what they are learning at Cruise360 in Vancouver this week.

He urged the audience to mark their calendars for a month from now and then, at that time, ask if they've made their business better based on what they learned at the conference: "If the answer is 'yes, congratulations and thank you, but if the answer is 'not yet,' do something with something you learned here to great, but if not, do something to begin to make a difference." 

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