The Art of Selling Up

A man and a woman in their 50s walk into your agency, looking to book a cruise to the Bahamas. They're first-time cruisers and have established a spending limit of $3,000, including airfare. How can you convince them to spend a little more on upgrades, thereby increasing the value of their vacation, not to mention your commission? Tom Jackson

Agents use a variety of ways to "sell up" when booking a client's vacation, and here, Travel Agent rounded up a few of the more inspired methods. Try one on your next client and see if you can't make someone's dream vacation come true.

Tom Jackson, president of Santa Ana, CA-based World Travel Bureau Inc., strongly believes in the power of selling up. "Selling up is all about 'value for money'—the new buzz phrase—and the agent being confident about the product," he says.

Entice cruisers with upscale accommodations, like the  penthouse suites with verandas on Crystal Cruises' Serenity

Amanda Klimak, the vice president of Largay Travel Inc. in Waterbury, CT, agrees and says that most of her business is based on upselling to clients.

"You have to know their hot buttons," Klimak says. "For one person, it might be the size of the suites or the location—you need to know those features." Klimak says her biggest form of business is selling cruise lines, and she is always quick to tell clients that for slightly more, they can get into the five-star luxury lines. "It benefits me, because there is more included, and the client is thrilled with that."

Heinke McDade

Start the Sale Right

Agents report that the first principle of selling up is to always ask clients about their willingness to upgrade. Never assume a client can't afford something or won't be open to a suggestion. Get used to selling from the top, agents say, because your opportunity for an increased sale is your client's chance at a memorable vacation—and a happy customer is a repeat customer.

Sometimes, clients may need some convincing that they deserve to splurge.

"Spend a little more and you can have the trip of a lifetime," says Heinke McDade, president of McDade Travel in Roanoke, VA. "The argument I always like to use is if you only have two weeks of vacation a year and you don't have a good time on vacation, you just wasted that time that you don't get back."

At Ensemble's headquarters in New York City, Jack Mannix (center) and Suzanne Gannon (far right) are shown with John Jessey, director of e-marketing; Suzanne Hall, director of marketing for land products; and Carol Black, director of strategic marketing

McDade says she loves the idea of selling up because it's almost as though she is giving her customers permission to live a little. Very often, she says, it's matching the client with the appropriate product and then examining potential upgrades from there.

"I had very good clients who booked a Holland America Line cruise in the middle of March, and then HollandAmerica called and said they could be in a suite for $600, right below the penthouse," McDade recalls. "They had the time of their lives, and they're going again."

Most importantly, McDade realizes her own reputation is at stake when booking a client's vacation. "If I sell a cheap trip, customers will judge me," she says. "If we have the reputation, we should be coming up with dream vacations. Most of the time, I think we succeed." Selling Up: Dos and Don'ts

Another technique to selling up is to think differently. If you have a family of four taking a 12-day vacation to Tuscany, why not present them with villa accommodations as opposed to a hotel? By doing this, the family feels more like a part of the local scenery, rather than tourists coming and going from a hotel. "You need to turn it into their benefit," says Susan Gannon, senior director of marketing and development of cruise products for Ensemble Travel Group. "That's a component that's missing sometimes when agents try to sell up."

Selling up can sometimes mean selling longer, says Jack Mannix, president and CEO of Ensemble.

"A longer trip can make for a better trip," he says. Also, agents can increase a sale by snowballing a trip to include friends and extended family, he suggests.

Upselling for a Cruise

Eight years ago, David Fritz, president of Cruise Everything in Fort Myers, FL, made the conscious decision to move away from selling mass-market cruises and into the business of capitalizing on the premium and luxury side. Not only did that decision help his bottom line, it too armed him with the knowledge on how to take his mass-market clients and turn them onto higher-end products.

Like any business, the more expensive the product you sell, the higher the commission. So it makes sense, though without totally shunning your mass-market clientele, to strive to sell higher-end inventory. This means not only the type of cruise vessel, but also the room.

David Fritz upsells clients from mass-market cruise lines

"You have to explain the options they have," says Fritz. "Don't be an order taker, but be their consultant. We'll give clients the advantage of having a room with a veranda, especially on a mass-market ship because the cost difference is usually minimal."

The difference between an inside room, which Fritz makes sure to qualify as a room with no window, and an outside room with a private balcony is so vast that it's almost a sin to not try and sell a guest up that way. "You have to put a realistic spin on it," Fritz explains. "An inside room is a glorified closet." To facilitate the process, Fritz tries to help his clients visualize the different rooms and uses terms like "magical" to describe the pleasure derived out of having your own balcony, especially for first-timers.

Meanwhile, a little salesmanship can move a client from a Carnival to a Holland America cruise, leaving a larger commission check in your wallet. And, it's not that hard.

"Half of my clients who chose the mass market originally, have moved to premium," Fritz says. He's even taken entry-level guests all the way up to Silversea. To accomplish the feat, Fritz will often host groups on premium or luxury ships and invite prospective clients whom he believes may be willing to move up in ship class. "Give them the opportunity to be introduced to a premium product," he says. After an initial written invitation, Fritz will follow up with a phone call. "You have to spend the extra time it takes to show the guest that even though it may cost more, it's a better product," he says.

Of course, one benefit that sells itself on some premium and luxury lines is the gratuities-included policy. Gratuities alone can end up costing cruisers much more than they anticipated. This is where Fritz's consortium, Signature, helps him out. "Signature is leading us down the right path," he says. "We have benefits through them that include payments of gratuities on ships that add them. It's great, and we get to take the credit."

Training Your Agents

"Selling up is the most important thing you can train your staff to do," says Maureen Jones, owner of All Horizons Travel in Los Altos, CA. In fact, her entire staff is trained in the pros and cons of selling up, thanks to the fact that the topic is taught in training sessions by the Signature Travel Network, the agency's consortium.

Additionally, because the back of the house for the agency's web site is powered by Signature, All Horizons' agents can easily demonstrate to their clients the benefits of booking a cruise cabin in a higher category.

"You can go onto the web site, click on 'Cruises' and say to the client, 'This is your cabin. If you want an upgrade, you can get a cabin with a sitting room—or instead of an inside cabin, why not get one with a balcony?' You would be amazed, once they see it, how they want to upgrade."

Jones says that the agency's honeymoon registry has proven to be an ideal mechanism for selling up. "If a young couple comes in and says, 'We've only got $5,000 to spend, can we take a trip to Hawaii with that?' what we'll say is, 'Instead of your wedding guests buying you a toaster, why don't they buy you a dinner cruise or a day of snorkeling on your trip?' That is selling up for the honeymoon."

When it comes to selling Europe, Jones encourages her clients to take a hotel in the heart of a city, rather than staying on the outskirts of town. While the hotel that is further away may be less expensive, clients will spend their dollars traveling back and forth by cab all day. If they're in London, however, she'll put them in Knightsbridge—where they can walk, for free, to the theaters, shops and restaurants.

"It's all about training, and you sell what you know," says Jones. "This is why I encourage my agents to take so many trips, because then they can speak with conviction to the client because they've experienced it themselves." Jones, who teaches classes to travel agents in her area, tells her students: "You are not order takers; you are professionals. It is up to you to learn about everything there is."

Don't Be Afraid

As agency manager for Nervig Travel in Panama City, FL, Varianna Colemere has some simple advice for her agents when it comes to selling up.

"Do not be afraid. Your clients may have seen something on the Internet, but they're coming to you—they want you to sell to them." Colemere tells her agents that the number-one order of business is to qualify their clients. "Figure out from your clients what they are looking for in their trip. If experience is more important to them than money, the sky's the limit."

The word "cheapest" is not in Colemere's vocabulary and she doesn't want her agents using it. Colemere sums it up by advising agents to always sell the overall experience; don't forget to paint a picture for clients; and to remember: never be afraid.

—With reporting by Mackenzie Allison, Daniel Butcher, David Eisen, Jennifer Merritt, Mark Rogers, Debbie Strong and Ruthanne Terrero