Go Big or Go Home: Travel Agents Take Cruise Nights to a New Level

Avenues of the World Travel hosted an Africa Night at a local bookstore owned by a client. // Photo by Avenues of the World Travel

It’s been a hot year for expedition cruising, and travel advisor Mitch Krayton has been on top of the trend. When he was named an official Specialist Select in Expedition Cruising by Signature Travel Network, it occurred to him that he should reimagine—and enlarge—his Cruise Night presentations. 

So forget 30 folks at the library. In 2020, Krayton will email 40,000 potential customers to meet 16 expedition companies at his First Annual Small Ship Cruising Expo at the Lowry Conference Center in Denver.

Daniela Harrison’s agency, Avenues of the World, also is expanding and enlarging its calendar of customer events. Where in the past it held three Cruise Nights, in 2020 it will host one big Travel Night instead. And with more suppliers and about 70 hand-picked upscale customers, the event will move from the office to a nearby country club—and the cost will be absorbed entirely by the suppliers.

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Angela Rice, co-founder of Boutique Travel Advisors LLC, also has been going big with her customer presentations. Her luxury-focused Around the World event brought together suppliers including Azamara, Crystal Cruises, SeaDream Cruises, Belmond, Andaz and Backroads—and raised more than $10,000 for her favorite charity, the Amanda Hope Foundation, which supports pediatric cancer patients. 

As an added bonus, Rice raffled off a free year of “Concierge Services” by her agency—highlighting a higher level of service she now offers, and for which she will be charging higher fees. In addition to the extra revenue, she notes, her three-tiered Concierge Service program helps to “make it clear what we normally do for customers and what we do not,” she said.

At Holiday Cruises & Tours, meanwhile, Phil Swartz is adding a little luxury and a little expedition to his customer events. Where in the past he would bring in three contemporary cruise lines for a Cruise Night, this year he is planning to do a Luxury Travel Night, with a river cruise, a luxury ocean cruise, a hotel company and an expedition cruise company, with “heavy hors d’oeuvres and wine and cheese.”

When you have a company that is not as well known, like the expedition companies, “sometimes people will come because of the names they know, and get exposed to the ones they don’t,” he said. 

Holiday Cruises and Tours of Tallahassee also is doing “more luxury” at its presentations, said sales manager Lenny Kopple—but an even bigger change is a switch from evenings to afternoons, to attract more of the retirees who have the time to take longer cruises.

At an Around the World event hosted by Boutique Travel Advisors, the agency raised over $10,000 for Amanda Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting children battling cancer. // Photo by Boutique Travel Advisors

How to Get Started

For Krayton, putting together his big night began with approaching “every cruise line president and VP of sales” at a conference, pitching his idea to target the 60 “55+ active retirement communities in the greater Denver area”—each home to between 300 and 4,000 families that “have the money and the time and a desire to travel with friends.”  

Encouraged by their enthusiastic replies, he followed up at the annual Signature conference in Las Vegas—“and I got yes, yes, yes; 10 of the 16 companies I targeted gave me a definite yes on the spot,” he says.

At a normal Cruise Night event, “the large cruise lines suck the air out of the room,” Krayton believes. So in what is expected to be a booming year for expedition cruises, with many competing companies eager to make a mark and differentiate themselves, the lines were eager for an opportunity to be in a venue of their own. 

“I want everyone to have a sit-down at a roundtable and talk about the experience they want, and ask the suppliers why they choose that line, and what they will get if they hand over $5,000.”

For Krayton, meanwhile, expedition cruising is a high-commission, high-value market, with no NCFs; “for the same work as selling an ocean cruise I can make a commission with a comma in it,” he notes. And where his previous Travel Nights had individual suppliers in rented space meeting with 25-30 potential customers, this year he figures that, for not much more effort, he can fill a hall.

At this point in his long career selling travel, Krayton’s goal is to be a consultancy in the half-million-dollar range, with 50 great clients, based on personal relationships with these small vessels and their owners, “giving people a vacation of a lifetime.”

For this he will give tickets away free in advance of his big event, or charge $25 at the door—but of course his end goal goes beyond what he will earn from tickets. 

“One-to-many marketing is the way to go; they get a taste of me,” he says. “If I break even and book some cabins, that’s fine. It’s a way to build leads to put in my database. I figure I will have enough leads for the whole year. And I am planning to hold an event every year.”

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