Turning Luxury Knowledge into Luxury Cruise Sales

luxury travel exchange international 2012

Pulling in $500,000 annually in sales may seem like a stretch for many travel agents. But according to a cruise panel hosted by Bill Smith, vice president of cruise sales and exclusive products for Virtuoso, at Luxury Travel Exchange's opening general session, it may be easier than you think to achieve this goal.

On the panel was Bob Lepisto, president, SeaDream Yacht Club; Rick Sasso, president, MSC Cruises; and Peter Shanks, president, Cunard.

According to Smith, understanding luxury and how to capitalize on it is the way to achieving million-dollar success. "The term 'luxury' is now over-used and trite," Smith said to a packed house. "Over the years, everything has come to be defined as luxury. What is the new luxury? We're all looking for ways to define that. As we're talking to clients, how do we understand what that client is looking for? How do we position them as a luxury cruiser?"

According to Sasso, luxury has a lot of position, especially in the cruise sector where there's so much variety. "Some characteristics of cruising luxury should be exclusivity, privacy, luxuriousness and affordability," Sasso says. At MSC, the line has strived to achieve the best of both worlds. Four out of the 12 vessels have what is known as the Yacht Club. The Club was designed to be three separate decks, totally enclosed with butlers, private lounges and private dining areas. While this section is completely exclusive, cruisers can also experience the rest of the ship. "What we want to do is make sure we can give the best of both worlds," Sasso says.

"Luxury is a fast-changing thing," says Shanks. "We recently did a big piece of research to find out what luxury is, and what people expect."

According to Cunard's findings, in North America luxury is readily available. Wherever you live in the U.S., the bar for luxury is very high. What drives this is two things. The first is that people want spaciousness. They want to be surrounded by space and they want what's better than their normal life. The second is that they want to see destinations and to better themselves. "If the cruise lines play it right we can offer fantastic luxury on ships and in a range of destinations. We need to speak the right language to these people," says Shanks.

After understanding what defines luxury, it's time to translate that understanding into dollars. It's easier than you may think. Most agents have at least one client that can afford to spend the big bucks. Lepisto tells one story of an agent that suggested to his client, "Have you ever thought of doing something extraordinary for your wife's 60th birthday?" The client said no. So the agent suggested that he charter a SeaDream yacht and sail it from Piraeus to Venice, and fill the guest rooms with his wife's closest friends and family. The client loved the idea. "I had the pleasure of writing that agent a $70,000 commission check," Lepisto said.

The market is ripe for multigenerational, family and celebration travel. Bill Smith says this is where the money is. Shanks also brings up the subject of the world cruise market, which is incredibly lucrative. "For 2014 Cunard is putting all of its ships on a world voyage," he says. These voyages are usually around 110-115 days, and the demand for these types of trips is growing.

"People like to buy things from people who know more than they do about the product," says Sasso. "Familiarize yourself so that it makes it impossible for someone to say 'I'm not sure.' Hone your selling skills and product knowledge and increase your sales."

Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for our exclusive coverage from this year's show.