Travel Industry Veteran Jeff Drew Talks Retirement and Life Afloat

jeff drew

From being an agent at Maritz to serving in senior executive roles at many cruise lines, Jeff Drew has watched the “seascape” of the cruise industry unfold. Over the years, Drew has worked for Classic Hawaii, Seabourn Cruise Line, Cunard Line, Intrav/Clipper and Oceania Cruises.

Retiring last month as senior vice president of sales, American Queen Steamboat Company, Drew managed all aspects of the river line’s agency sales and distribution channel and led its team of regional sales directors.

He spoke to Travel Agent about his future plans, trends he’s observed during his career, sales tips for agents, and people who've influenced his career along the way.

What plans do you have for retirement?

“I am actually looking at this as my next chapter in life. I will be getting back into public speaking at conferences on a host of topics. I promise to be entertaining and educational. I will also be involved in mentoring teenagers from the inner city on ‘Life 101.’

“My parents laid a great foundation and I need to ‘pay it forward.’ I also plan to golf and travel, but my attitude is that we all have only so much time remaining left. I want these next 25 years to be some of my very best.”

What do see as your biggest achievement?

“My biggest achievement was making the travel Industry my vocation for the last 35 years and working closely with outstanding leaders such as Jim and Bill Maritz, Larry Pimentel, Warren Titus, Bill Leiber, Pam Conover, Frank Del Rio, Joe Waters, Ted Sykes and John Waggoner. Very few can be so fortunate.

“In my opinion, I'm the ‘Forrest Gump’ of the cruise industry. Most importantly, I’ve worked with some of the very best and most talented regional sales managers in the travel industry. That never ceased to amaze me.”

What are the biggest trends that have evolved in cruising since 2000?

“For blue water cruising, one big trend I see is that shore excursions have become very competitive at creating the ‘wow’ factor and are more adventuresome than ever before. Another big trend is the evolution of dining experiences – from specialty restaurants to wine tastings, from coffee bistros to pastry chef creations.

“For river cruising, the two big trends I see are, first and foremost, new ship builds that are dominating the river cruise scene. Customers also are purchasing these new river products over the old inventory. Each river line is trying to outdo the other in deluxe suites but in regular cabin size, balcony square footage with better viewing platforms.

“Another major trend I’m seeing is lower river cruise pricing in Europe – designed to fill this inventory. There is also a huge increase in repeat river cruise passengers.”

What's the untold story in ocean cruising and river cruising?

“The untold story in ocean cruising is how creative the cruise lines are getting in making the most luxurious suites imaginable. Those are larger than ever.

Concerning river cruising, the untold story is the food quality, which is getting much better. That includes wine selections like I’ve never seen before – not just wines from France or California.”

What are your top tips for selling both types of cruises?

“For ocean cruises, I advise agents to not sell out of your own wallet, but rather from that of the specific client. In addition, always think outside the box. Arrange the memorable and not simply the ordinary. Cheap vacations usually end up as the most expensive mistake.

“For river cruising, capitalize on the advantage over escorted tours – such as the packing and unpacking on a tour; for seniors, that can be problematic. River cruise commissions are also equal or even much more than land packages at a 10 percent base. River cruising provides many more commissionable opportunities.”

Who impacted your career the most and how so?

“Bill Leiber, during his time at Maritz, Norwegian Cruise Line and Seabourn Cruise Line, taught me what a true work ethic is.

"Larry Pimentel, now with Azamara Club Cruises and formerly with Classic Hawaii, Seabourn Cruise Line and Cunard Line, gave me the confidence to do more than 250 public seminars in my career.

"Frank Del Rio of Oceania Cruises and John Waggoner of American Queen Steamboat Company showed me the real ‘guts’ in putting everything they owned on the line to succeed...and they did.

“Mostly though, I want to thank all the travel agents who have been so good to me over the past 35 years and having been one myself, appreciating what they go through on a day-to-day basis. I have been so fortunate."