Repeat and referral business is considered “gold” for travel agents. Studies show that 37 percent of consumers who use travel agents were recommended by friends or family, and that 41 percent of those who used a recommended travel agent are more likely to book again without checking alternative sources, according to executives of World Travel Holdings’ cruise selling brands.
So not surprisingly, more than 1,000 agents of CruiseOne, Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc., who were attending the group's 2017 National Conference on Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas, responded with robust applause as they learned that in early December they’ll have a new “Vacation Superhero" referral program, developed by the headquarters’ information technology and marketing departments.
"Easy” and “free” are the top buzz words here. Agents will simply tell their clients to go to a section of their agency website and then enter their favorite travel memories or experiences from a recent trip and, if the client is so inclined, to tell the world how wonderful their specific agent was in setting it all up.
Clients will also be able to post those comments on social media. If the agent receives a referral that turns into a booking, the client will receive a Visa gift card as a reward. Plus, those referrals (potential clients) will have access to exclusive promotions.
Rosemarie Reed, vice president of sales and marketing for the three brands, said: “This industry program is completely free for our travel agents and the technology is sophisticated enough to automatically recognize those who booked through the 'Vacation Superhero' referral program. This enables our agents to concentrate on what they do best – planning dream vacations.”
It puts a new twist on the dilemma when some agents are reluctant to ask clients for referrals to specific friends. Now agents who would prefer can simply ask the client to go on and leave vacation comments and recommend them. And when the client posts, a much greater pool of potential clients will see that “My 'XYZ Agent' has done a fabulous job on my vacation."
The new program uses “sophisticated technology that’s seamless and frictionless, with the referrals driven back to agents,” said Reed, who said the goal is to help agents grow their businesses, not simply putting forth new technology for its slick look. Agents only have to refer clients to go to their website to post and nothing else.
She also said it will be utilized for all products sold – land, cruise and groups.
Also on the marketing side, Kim Faiello, director of marketing, announced several new programs, including a new partnership with Wine.com. Starting this year -- during the prime holiday period when much wine is ordered by consumers -- a marketing piece for CruiseOne, Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. will go out with every order of wine customers of Wine.com order.
“It will give us the biggest bang for new clientele,” said Reed. Agents who pay to participate in the organization’s lead generation program will receive leads from the promotion.
In another new program, the group’s first LGBT Group cruise has been booked for April 2018 on Celebrity Cruises.
And for the first time ever, Drew Daly, general manager, network engagement and performance, announced that World Travel Holdings will charter an AmaWaterways river cruise vessel, the AmaLea, for the group's first River Cruise Summit, a seven-night Danube sailing in March 2019.
Agents who book one of 60 staterooms/suites (120 people maximum) on a first-come, first-served basis will be able to sail, see what a river cruise is all about, and return to do the best job of selling the product, said Daly. He noted that AmaWaterways will provide its normal product for authenticity of the experience as well as shore tours, but that the WTH brands will also have special experiences ashore.
More technology news? Sandi Szalay, vice president of information technology, delivered her presentation in Star Trek-themed attire, as her presentation was themed around that iconic science fiction franchise. For the firm’s consumer websites, a multimillion dollar investment by World Travel Holdings will “reimagine” the online vacation shopping experience by simplifying promotions and improving the overall experience for consumers.
The websites will make it easier to understand the promotion-rich and often confusing price promotion environment that emphasizes value over savings, and give consumers a choice in which vacation package they want to purchase.
Other new technology updates on the horizon include further upgrades in the group booking process that will create efficiencies and customizable options to complement the existing Groups Concierge, plus enhancements to the resort vacation booking and fulfillment process with the ability to pull reservations directly from preferred vendors.
Szalay's department has added 17 new hires as it's expanding capabilities in a broad range of technology projects.
Other new marketing and sales programs announced include a restructured Business Development Team that provides more individualized attention. Now assisting Saul Fonseca, director of sales, are Karen Hermann, western region; Adam Taylor, central region; and Jackie Thompson, eastern region.
In addition, Tensi Westreicher has been tapped as a dedicated manager to support new franchise agents and help them build the foundation of their businesses. Other staff have also been added.
The popularity of the Kate Spade “I Need A Vacation” purses, and the organic marketing it produced, spawned the creation of branded vacation-themed apparel for agents. Tee shirts included everything from “Eat, Sleep, Cruise, Repeat” to “Girls Just Want to Have Sun.”
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