Wendy Burk is CEO of Travel Dynamics Group in San Diego, Calif. and David E. Lowy is president of Renshaw Travel & Cruise Concepts in Vancouver, B.C.
TravelAge West recently sat down with two agents who sell luxury cruising to find out why this market is one of the fastest-growing segments in the travel industry. David E. Lowy is president of Renshaw Travel & Cruise Concepts in Vancouver, B.C., and Wendy Burk is CEO of Travel Dynamics Group in San Diego, Calif.
How is your luxury cruise business performing this year?
Burk: Very well. We are having very large increases in our business this year.
Lowy: The company is doing great. Many people have been under the impression that nobody has any more money, but there has been a correction in the market and, as a result, the opportunity to travel is better now than it was before. Now, clients are essentially getting 50 percent more for 50 percent less.
Which types of clients are interested in the luxury cruise segment?
Burk: We have seen a variety of clients interested in this segment of the market from pretty much all levels and all different age groups.
Lowy: Our current clientele is composed of existing cruise clients who are now interested in different destinations and new travelers who are boarding cruise ships because of the sheer value.
What new kinds of clients are being drawn into the market and are you seeing a younger demographic?
Burk: A lot of our clients are realizing that the luxury market offers great value right now. And clients who used to do land vacations are now seeing that cruising has great value. We are seeing a wider variety in the age groups of new clients, but the average age is definitely going down.
Lowy: Yes, I am. This is most noticeable on SeaDream Yacht Club cruises, which offer a very unique and particular product. What SeaDream is selling appeals to a younger audience because it is offering the yacht experience as opposed to the cruise line experience.
Are your luxury cruise clients attracted to the newer offerings that this market segment has?
Burk: Yes, many of our luxury cruise clients are very much attracted by the market’s newer offerings.
Lowy: They are if I suggest it to them. At the luxury end of the market, the advisor has a lot of say in what the clients do and where they go. At my end of the market, and with the people whom I work with, I am very proactive in suggesting to clients what they should try.
How big of an influence are niches such as food, wine and spa?
Burk: A very high percentage of our clients are particularly interested in these activities.
Lowy: Those three are not relevant at all because, at this end of the market, everyone expects that they are going to have great food, great wine and a great spa. Now, clients’ expectations are no different from the amenities that they expect from luxury hotels. Special interests that do attract clients, I find, are more specific. I put James Taylor on the Queen Mary II last year, and it was a huge success. Another example of appealing to a special interest is Silversea Cruises’ series that involves a cruise in the Eastern Mediterranean with both Mikhail Gorbachev and Condoleezza Rice onboard. What most appeals to clientele is the combination of special events such as those, and a specialized itinerary — opportunities for enrichment.
What are the most important points to remember in selling upscale cruises?
Burk: That it’s all-inclusive — luxury cruises do not nickel and dime clients. When they get onboard, it is all encompassing. There is also the idea of being stress free and only having to pack and unpack once. That is the same on any cruise ship, but specifically more of a luxury is that all of the details are handled for you ahead of time.
Lowy: To listen intently to the client and to avoid suggesting what benefits you, such as booking with preferred suppliers but, instead, to suggest what would be right for the traveler. A lot of people have bad cruise experiences because they are put on the wrong ship. The mix up is no different from someone who is, perhaps, a Four Seasons’ client being booked into a stay at a Super 8 motel.
Do you have any other tips for agents on selling luxury cruises?
Burk: Agents should make sure that they list all of the items that are included so that when clients compare a luxury cruise side by side to a premium cruise line, they can see that they may have a less expensive price buying into it, however, they are going to be paying for everything a la carte. Whereas in a luxury environment, the wine is included or the drinks are included or a shore excursion is included. And there are different things that are included in a luxury cruise that aren’t necessarily available on a premium cruise. So, the value-
added items that are included with the luxury cruise need to be spelled out to the client so that they know exactly what they are getting.
Are there any other trends you’ve seen in the industry within the last year?
Burk: We’ve seen a huge frenzy of travelers, with 2009 being very slow, and nobody wanting to travel because of everybody having cabin fever, or frugality fever, if you will. Now, they want to get out and spend and do, but they are looking for value, and cruises fall right into that category.
What are some of the pitfalls of selling luxury cruises and how do you overcome them?
Burk: The cabins that people want are already booked far ahead. Agents should explain to people who are booking close to the departure date they need to try and book further out.
Lowy: It all depends on how your business works and in which end of the market your clients are traveling. The luxury cruise lines are, in many respects, a much better value than the premium lines because of what they include. If you move your clients into a more premium product, the positive experience means that they are happier, you are happier — it is a win all around.
In your experience, what is one of the resources that you have found to be most beneficial to your business?
Lowy: I find myself heavily relying on my cruise reps. They are some of the last business development people who contact us regularly and inform us on what most people are doing, what is the most current approach that works in terms of the sales, etc. As opposed to asking for what shipboard credits, spa credits and discounts are available — since I can find all of this on the Internet — I am interested in knowing the trends, what is working and what I should promote that is unique.