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The concept of “upward” is part of the American DNA. In the heart of the Great Depression, author and historian James Truslow Adams first described the American Dream as the idea that “life should be better and richer and fuller for every man.” The dream of progressing to a better life is ingrained in us, whatever that may mean to each individual.
So agents who offer their clients a step up to luxury travel are speaking to a mindset that is already there, and guests who move from mass market and premium cruising to luxury lines make up a very impressive portion of the sector’s business.
“It’s a fallacy that luxury lines mainly trade guests among one another,” said Eric Graves, vice president of sales for Crystal Cruises. “Last year 60 percent of those who cruised with Crystal came from premium and contemporary lines on their previous cruise, much more premium than contemporary.”
Other industry executives agree that the best source for new luxury cruise passengers is in the premium category.
“Bringing premium customers to Regent is a core part of our sales and marketing, and travel agents really engage in this,” said Randall Soy, executive vice president of sales for Regent Seven Seas Cruises. “It has driven tremendous financial results. It doesn’t do anyone any good to trade clients among the luxury lines. It’s the 70,000 premium customers in balconies and suites agents should be looking at.”
John Delaney, Seabourn senior vice president, marketing and sales, said his line has a unique position at the pinnacle of the Carnival brands, which create a set of stepping stones to Seabourn.
“Seabourn taps into that,” he said, “and many who buy suites on Princess Cruises or Holland America Line will make the jump to Seabourn.”
Delaney added that the move to a higher level often comes because of a particular itinerary.
“In St. Petersburg, Russia, where people may have some anxieties about staying on land, we are small enough to anchor right in the middle of the city and allow our guests to access the heart of the culture,” he said. “With Burma, there’s a lack of infrastructure, so there’s no better way to see it, in my opinion. When a client is interested in an exotic destination, it’s a perfect time to introduce a Seabourn cruise. Having experienced the luxury product, the client wants to repeat it. And, of course, luxury means higher commissions for the agent and greater client satisfaction.”
The same is true for Silversea Cruises’ luxury exploration ships, according to Ellen Bettridge, president for the Americas. Silver Explorer, Silver Galapagos and Silver Discoverer are important introductions to the Silversea experience and help drive a more diverse demographic to other ships in the line.
Itinerary is also the draw for Paul Gauguin Cruises’ passenger base. Vanessa Bloy, director of public relations, said most passengers are coming from other cruise lines — contemporary, premium and luxury — drawn by the itineraries in Tahiti and French Polynesia.
The vital ingredient in selling up is value: showing the client what the cost of a luxury cruise includes and comparing it to the same elements on a premium or contemporary vacation.
“Once clients see the math they can understand the value, especially compared to the higher end suites on contemporary lines,” said Delaney. “They don’t have to pay for alternative dining, gratuities or drinks. One very important aspect is the sheer ease onboard the ship. Having the beverages included, for example, creates a relaxed, engaging social environment where people can share drinks and not worry about who pays.”
Graves pointed out that Crystal has a trifold all-inclusive guide that breaks down the elements of its product; these are available to agents to graphically demonstrate the value of luxury.
“Many people find it shocking how little cost difference there is,” he said.
Regent’s comprehensive all-inclusive product is a key factor in selling up, according to Soy.
“Our success selling up is tied to our free, unlimited shore excursions, drinks and other inclusions,” he noted. “It’s not just the money — it’s interrupting a romantic moment to sign a card and determining which shore excursions you can take. We’ve taken all that out, and guests can just focus on the experience. And for those who have been buying balconies and suites on premium lines, it’s not that much more money.”
Bloy said cruise and land-based travelers aiming for Tahiti and Polynesia also choose Gauguin because of the value. She said selling up depends on being clear about inclusions: Gauguin includes airfare, exclusive beach experiences, drinks, watersports and more. For guests whose dreams of the region include overwater bungalow accommodations, the company can provide pre- or post-cruise stays or, for an additional fee, passengers can go to them on the two overnights during the cruise.
For Un-Cruise, value and access to remote destinations are key drivers. Tim Jacox, executive vice president of sales and marketing, said the inclusions allow guests to concentrate on the active adventures without paying for drinks, watersports or even a massage. And Un-Cruise also does a lot of milestone business, since the small yachts provide charter possibilities for honeymoons, landmark birthdays and wedding anniversaries.
“Agent charter is a slam dunk with escort concessions, tour conductors and special features,” he said. “We’ll help with co-op and presentations. It all goes back to the definition of luxury. Exclusivity is luxury, as are life-changing experiences.”
Soy agreed that milestones can often persuade guests to move up.
“Those celebratory moments provide an opportunity,” he said. “The client is more likely to feel that he or she deserves it, and invest in that moment.”
When to Upsell
So when should agents broach a higher level cruise? Dan Chapelle, vice president of sales for Windstar Cruises, said agents should not be afraid to suggest it when clients have complaints about long lines or other aspects of their cruise experience.
“Ask a lot of questions,” he suggested. “See what hotels they stay in, what their tastes are. People who are experienced travelers may be ready to move upward.”
Delaney said the best agents stay closely engaged with their clients and keep in touch with their life changes.
“The best demographic is the 45- to 65-year-old working wealthy,” he stated.
One of those who keeps a close eye on his clients’ lives is Gary Johnson, owner of Woodside Travel in Los Angeles, who attributes his success to connecting clients with cruises he genuinely feels passionate about. He puts together large groups who respond to his intimate knowledge of Seabourn and SeaDream Yacht Club.
“If they live really well, why not travel as they live?” said Adrian Forst, manager of Protravel in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Forst observed that retirement signals longer vacations and, since about 75 percent of her database consists of longtime clients, she talks to them frequently and knows where they are thinking of going. She plans two trips a year and sends them emails and personal letters. Her customers often invite friends to join the group, helping to share the luxury experience.
Susan Reder, managing partner at Frosch Classic Cruises & Travel, has been refining her client base as a part of her Signature membership, and finds it an “incredible tool” for keeping up with lifestyle changes and signs that a client may be interested in buying up. She also advocates lots of ship visits, and extensive sailing experience.
Graves says most agents underestimate the client’s buying power.
“All they really care about is value,” he said. “Selling up is simply a mindset — don’t try to decide what they can afford. Show them the value and you can sell up automatically. Everybody has clients they can sell up. Zero in on at least one of them.”
“I would say to agents: ‘Why have you not been doing this? Are you an order taker or an advisor?’” he said. “The benefits to agents — financial and in terms of customer satisfaction — are so great, how can anyone afford not to do that?”