Crystal Gala Celebrates Agent Success

Crystal Cruises expands its agent initiatives at the 20th annual sales achievement awards gala By: Marilyn Green
Left to right: Mark Kammerer of Virtuoso; Greg Nacco of Cruise Specialists; Phyllis Corliss of The Corliss Group; and Bill Knight of All Cruise...
Left to right: Mark Kammerer of Virtuoso; Greg Nacco of Cruise Specialists; Phyllis Corliss of The Corliss Group; and Bill Knight of All Cruise Travel. // © 2010 Crystal Cruises

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During the June Sales Achievement Gala aboard Crystal Symphony, Crystal Cruises executives discussed the policies that have made the line and its agents successful. Several representatives described Crystal’s As You Wish onboard credit as “maybe the best idea we have ever had.” President Gregg Michel said that the program puts power back into the hands of the consumer and has given agents an opportunity to demonstrate expertise and advice on spending.

“Price only can be a race to the bottom,” added Michel. “You must explain value.”

Bill Smith, senior vice president of sales and marketing, added that the biggest segment of the Crystal’s lucrative group sales is the family market.

“Even agents who aren’t comfortable selling other groups can sell this group,” Smith said. “Every agent has potential customers.”

Despite the recession, family business is dependable, and the line is also seeing family group sales built around grandparent anniversaries and birthdays, according to Smith.

“Grandparents don’t want to disappoint their families by canceling a cruise, so this is an area where a sale sticks on the books,” he said. “And, we have more than 2,000 guests a year celebrating birthdays, so agents should be selling the next year’s cruise as the client comes off this birthday sailing.”

Smith said that wealthy consumers are currently spending, but ostentatious spending is still not considered fashionable and that clients need to be given permission to cruise.

“The price must be justified,” said Smith. “Reputation and integrity are more important than ever, and a strong relationship is the key to sales and client retention.”

Smith sees a recovering, yet volatile, market.

“A month ago, consumer confidence was at its highest since 2008, and the luxury consumer was spending,” he stated. “Today, we have extreme volatility.”

One feature strongly in tune with the times is the company’s You Care, We Care program, which allows socially conscious cruisers to donate time and effort to charity. On every 2011 itinerary, there is one complimentary shore excursion that facilitates aid to local efforts such as a burn center in Lima, Peru, and a school improvement program in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Crystal provides transport and also donates a portion of each 2011 shore excursion to a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Environmentally, Crystal has committed to serving only sustainable seafood and is working to develop its own water bottling plant, a very complex project that would eliminate the transportation of about a million plastic bottles annually.

In terms of deployment, Crystal will sail in Alaska next year for the first time since 2005, with 12-day cruises roundtrip from San Francisco on the Symphony. The line has added about 150,000 Crystal Society guests since it was last in Alaska, and these are prime candidates for agents to sell Alaska. Crystal also expects a strong response on its Hawaii cruises in 2011, and the line will be in Antarctica for the last time, with space selling out fast. This year, Crystal will offer new Mexican Riviera itineraries sailing roundtrip from Los Angeles in November and December and a new overnight in New York on its New England/Canada itineraries.

John Stoll, vice president of land and port operations, said that Crystal is offering 329 shore excursion choices on the world cruise alone. Of these, 76 are brand new and 29 are overland, of which 15 are safaris. The line is including more extreme adventures, including a Darwin crocodile encounter, a flight in an MIG fighter jet and, tapping into the Russian Space program in Star City during call in St. Petersburg, guests can experience Zero Gravity or several Gs and experience a simulated walk in space.

Agents took extensive notes, cheered many of the announcements and discussed how to use the new features with their own clientele. The recent renovations to the Symphony produced a round of applause, and Michel said that, if business comes back consistently, the company would consider a newbuild, adding to the dining venues and creating more public spaces, as well as looking at stateroom sizes.

On Crystal Cruises’ 20th annual sales achievement awards gala sailing aboard the Crystal Symphony in June, the company expanded on its initiatives for agents.

The cruise line and its top agents agreed that Crystal’s lead generation program was very effective, although executives stressed the crucial role of a quick response in the right form.

“If [clients] want information by e-mail, it is crucial to respond by e-mail, not phone,” said Nitsa Lewis, Crystal’s vice president of marketing. “A speedy response — ideally within an hour — is key.”

Executives noted that Crystal’s online leads have proven to be a good source of new guests. In 2009, there were 47,969 leads, a 64 percent increase from 2008. More than 2,000 leads were generated from e-mails and 45 agencies made $5 million in bookings last year from these leads. E-mail lead generation now represents 5 percent of overall leads. For the future, Crystal is looking at an online leads incentive program where the top 25 agencies receive five additional hours per week.

A new agent tool, PURL, is a program in which Crystal provides the entire contents of its site, personalized and through a third party, for an agent, branded with the agent’s personalized URL and which has the agent’s contact information on every page. PURL will be tested for the next six months with gala qualifiers; after that period it will most likely be offered to strong producers via district sales managers.

“Like all Crystal programs, PURL operates in a totally fair process, which is a reward for productivity,” Lewis said.