When I was in junior high school I had the rare opportunity to seize the reins of my school for one day as its principal. "Principal For The Day," as it's called, is a typical privilege afforded to one lucky student at most schools around the country. While I'll spare you the details of handing out detentions and touring the faculty room, I will report that being a principal was more than just roaming the hallways and disciplining students. A lot more goes on behind the scenes.
The same can be said for many jobs that, on the outside, may appear to be facile. Travel agents, for example, don't just magically sell great vacations; they put in hours of time researching and learning about different products so that their clients can make informed decisions.
I found this out earlier this month by partaking in an agent-learning webinar conducted by SeaDream Yacht Club's Bob Lepisto, senior vice president of sales and marketing, and Gretchen Bell, who is SeaDream's director of business development and national accounts.
This would be interesting, I thought, and sure enough I came away not only with a further appreciation of the time travel agents put in to become better at their craft, but, also, with a strong inclination to get on the phone and sell some SeaDream vacations!
SeaDream operates two 110-guest yachts, SeaDream I and SeaDream II. I quickly was made to understand that selling SeaDream differs from selling other cruises. "It's yachting, not cruising," we were quickly informed by Lepisto. "We want every guest to feel like they are on their own private yacht."
As a writer, I thought of how playing up the yacht angle would make a great hook for a story; pretending to be a travel agent, I thought of how focusing a client's attention on a yacht experience would help sell SeaDream as a great and distinct luxury product.
Lepisto and Bell went through and indicated everything an agent would need to know to better sell the SeaDream product: how it differs from bigger cruise ships (more exclusive and visits to more small intimate ports), the attire (yacht casual and there are no formal nights), its all-inclusive nature (complimentary wine and gratuities included), stateroom configuration (54 in all at 195 square feet and one owner's suite), a SeaDream Spa and an assortment of water sports stemming from the yachts' aft marinas.
Now, a luxury cruise line can have all the bells and whistles—rightfully so when a client is shelling out serious money—but it's also the value, recognition and service that completes the vacation. These are points, as I soon found out, that can help an agent seal a deal.
First up, value. Bell showed us a useful on-screen chart that displayed SeaDream's pricing versus that of a five-star resort property in the Caribbean. The comparison showed the value both for clients and agents. A Caribbean voyage on SeaDream prices out at around $575 per person per day; while staying at a hotel will cost a guest around $696 per person per day. The minimal $121 difference only conceals part of why a SeaDream vacation is a win-win for clients and agents.
For starters, the $575 is all-inclusive, meaning food, wine, gratuities and activities are all taken care of in the price. Conversely, when staying at a hotel the $696 rate only includes lodging—not food, not activities, not tips, nothing. The quoted rate, then, is only a starting price that will surely balloon as the trip unfolds.
Secondly, booking a SeaDream cruise for a client is more profitable for a travel agent. While only 60 percent of a hotel booking in the Caribbean is commissionable, a SeaDream booking is fully, 100 percent commissionable. As a pseudo-agent du jour, it convinced me that selling a SeaDream yacht experience is more worth my while than selling a land-based Caribbean vacation.
Recognition and service is also what sets luxury lines like SeaDream apart. SeaDream has a 1-to-1 guest-to-crew ratio, which you don't have to be a math wiz to know is about as good as it gets. And luxury travelers want that recognition that SeaDream affords them—to know that they are being taken care of and are special.
Lastly, while SeaDream didn't offer me the "Glengarry" leads, they did offer some places and people I should key in on that are the fabric of SeaDream's clientele—namely yacht owners and country clubs. To be a good agent, it seems, you have to place your clients with the right product.
My hour spent in travel agent training was enlightening, and though I did learn a lot, I'm still not quite ready to quit my day job. Though if the opportunity to sell an 11-night Caribbean itinerary on SeaDream presents itself, I may have second thoughts.
For information on SeaDream visit www.seadream.com.