What Should Cruise Agents Do to Increase Revenue in 2015?

Selling cruises -- whether a ship is small and intimate or big and amenity-laden as with Royal Caribbean International's Allure of the Seas -- requires agents be product experts  // Photo by Susan J. Young

As cruise sellers look ahead to Wave Season and taking advantage of new cruise products in 2015, Travel Agent asked several trade and cruise executives what agents should do 2015 to ensure success and increased revenue.

Much of their advice goes back to the basics of being a proactive, professional agent. Here's a sampling of their feedback.  

Become a Product Expert

Product knowledge is absolutely imperative, believes John Lovell, president of Vacation.com: “To ensure their cruise business revenue increases in the coming year, agents definitely need to know the products they are selling so they can accommodate clients’ last-minute requests and also those who want to book farther in advance.”

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Similarly, Libbie Rice, co-president, Ensemble Travel Group, says most cruise lines have excellent online programs, as does CLIA: “Statistics show that agents who are certified by a supplier are higher producers.”

Think of upselling as a revenue "expander" and paint a visual picture for clients. Wouldn't they rather have a balcony view? // Photo of Norwegian Getaway by Susan J. Young

Fine-Tune the Database

Our sources say it’s critical to have an up-to-date database, to "know" that database inside and out and to identify the right client for the right product; that will result in more effective, more targeted marketing.

“Take a fresh look at your database to find new first-time cruisers,” recommends Alex Sharpe, president and CEO, Signature Travel, because he says the newer ships have new features that may help overcome what may have been barriers to booking a cruise in the past.  

Upsell With a Visual Approach

Think of upselling as an agency revenue “expander.” Ask cruise clients if they wouldn't prefer to sail in a balcony stateroom rather than an inside cabin. Explain inclusions of a higher-end product. Do so by painting a visual picture. 

Yes, many clients may say “no thanks,” but some will say “yes, that’s worth it.” Even if only a small percentage of those asked say "yes," that's a huge revenue enhancer. 

Target Agency Marketing, Don't Sell on Price

Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders Franchise Group, suggests agents leverage promotional offers, make certain they truly understand customers and use a targeted marketing approach. He also suggests “focusing their selling efforts on the overall cruise experience rather than selling on price point."

Cruise selling agents who take advantage of training programs, cruise line and consortia/host marketing tools and free consultations will increase sales, say cruise industry executives. // Photo by Susan J. Young  

Embrace Tools & Free Consultations

Marketing and technology tools from cruise lines, host agencies, franchise groups and consortia are ready available to help agents focus their sales and enhance revenue. Sometimes, though, they’re simply unused by travel agencies who’ve developed a certain way of doing things and resist changes.

Agents should touch base with their cruise line business development manager or inside sales person about how that supplier's electronic tools or marketing assistance could make the agency more efficient and effective.

Also, take advantage of host agency, franchise group of consortia tools. For example, Rice says "marketing and technology tools are available to help our members focus their sales and we provide business consultations and training sessions to help them do this successfully." 

Hang Onto the Customer

Vicki Freed, senior vice president, sales, trade support and service, Royal Caribbean International, puts it bluntly: “You gotta hang onto the customers that you already have. I can easily say that but it doesn’t happen by accident.” 

She stressed that the agent must be “touching the customer” with the right messaging and methodology. Pick up the phone, she recommends. Be personal and have a relationship with your clients. Don't rely on e-mail, which can be impersonal. 

Sell Ancillary Products

To increase agency revenue, Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion, urges clients to consider selling air, pre/post-trip accommodations, insurance and even work with a third-party that pays commissions on shore excursions.

Clients who belong to a history club might book a group cruise offering an Aphrodesias, Turkey, shore trip. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Ask for Referrals, Go After Groups

To get new cruise customers, agents should always ask current clients to refer friends, relatives or business colleagues, notes Freed. The referral gene isn't "a given" for most consumers; they have to be encouraged to provide a referral. 

Do you know precisely what activities at home that those clients like to do or what memberships they have in local clubs, churches or hobbyist groups? If so, ask clients if they would refer you to local club presidents, country club administrators, church groups or sports team directors.

If you don't know exactly what groups the client belongs to, find out in the course of normal conversation. Another easy way to learn "intel" is to ask them what they enjoyed doing on their last cruise; that's a good tip-off to the type of local contacts they may be able to give you for referrals.

Also, “go after that group market,” says Freed, noting it’s an easy way to bring in new clients. Think up a theme and build a group. You'll likely uncover many new clients who are first-time cruisers or are new to the agency.  

See our related story about how off-beat themed groups can boost an agency's bottom line. Just about anything can become a group cruise theme -- from a love of cats to tattoo artistry.

Build Memories

Don’t view a sale as a booking or reservation, but rather as a chance to make dreams come true. For cruise sellers to increase sales in 2015, Friedman says "cruise advisors need to be that end-to-end resource for their client and create an ultimate vacation experience to keep their clients coming back for more.”

"Remind people you are a memory doctor, you’ll make an impact in their lives,” says Freed. “I don’t think travel agents brag enough in experiential way. Say ‘I’m a memory maker. I help create lifelong memories for people that they’ll cherish.’ You have to touch someone’s heart.”

Find Your Network Niche

“With thousands of travel sellers, find new ways to stand out from the crowd with the support of a strong network,” said Sharpe. He suggests retailers look for a network with state-of-the-art technology, robust cruise privileges, training, marketing and resources that help enhance the cruise experience.

Above All, Be Proactive

Rick Sasso, president of MSC Cruises USA, tells us that the most proactive and professional travel advisors will always be in demand. Paying attention to customer service and keeping up with the cruise products and technology are among tasks Sasso cites as critically important for cruise selling retailers who wish to succeed.

“In fact, those who take this business seriously will actually do well and even own more of the market share of customers,” Sasso stresses. “It’s there for the taking.”

Stay Tuned for More ...

For more sales tips and ideas, plus trend information and 2015 cruise industry outlook projections from these executives, many individual travel agents and other top cruise industry sources (including executives from World Travel Holdings, Avoya Travel, Cruise Planners, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. and others), watch for our special Forecast Issue of Travel Agent magazine on December 29, 2014.