The Niche Cruise Marketing Alliance, a group of nine
lesser-known companies, has hired an industry veteran to help gain
the attention of travel agents.
Larry Dessler, who held various management positions with
Holland America Line, from 1987 to 1998, was hired Feb. 19 as the
part-time executive director of the three-year-old
“The NCMA was formed so that the small niche cruise lines could
get a voice in front of the travel agent distribution system to
provide a vehicle to be seen and heard,” Dessler said. “It’s hard
to be seen when the lights shining from the podium are the big
boys, so we’ve had to create a presence that’s based on our
When the alliance started, management and communications were
handled by Steve Hirshan, the vice president of marketing and sales
for MSC Italian Cruises.
“As his company has grown, it became more difficult for him to
give the alliance the attention it needed,” Dessler said. “It
became increasingly clear they had to bring someone in.”
In recent years, Dessler ran a consulting company called Dessler
& Associates, in Seattle; among his clients are Holland America
Line, Uniworld and the tour operator Far and Wide.
“With NCMA, I will be primarily responsible for executing plans
developed in conjunction with the executive committee and moving
the organization forward,” Dessler said.
“I will be a spokesperson for the media, as well as continue to
make inroads into the distribution system to provide useful
One area targeted for growth is the Niche Cruise Specialist
program. The educational certification program so far includes a
sales manual/workbook that agents study before taking an exam.
Those that pass are awarded the certification.
“It is up and off the ground,” Dessler said. “It already has
close to 900 travel agents that have gone through the training and
taken the final exam. The number is so big that we are still
entering the data into the database, and once that’s complete, we
will be able to recognize them with a certificate; and a way to
provide them with special offers.”
The training program and exam are available on the NCMA Web
site: www.nichecruise.com. The program was developed by instructor,
speaker and author Marc Mancini.
“Our Web site is being updated as we speak,” Dessler said. “We
have designs for it to be much more effective, we hope within the
next six months. We hope to incorporate onto the Web site a travel
agent referral system. We’ll provide agents with basic information
about our members and have links to the members’ Web sites. There
will be no booking engine at all, either for agents or
Also on Dessler’s to-do list is participation at trade shows and
other agent events.
“Niche cruising is a segment of the market where knowledge
rules,” Dessler said. “Travel agents who have that knowledge will
be able to convert more of their clients to cruise purchases. You
won’t have to go back and redo the deal a week later, after the
customer had a chance to price-shop.”
That’s because there’s less competition among the specialized,
“Travel agents who have given information on this side of the
market won’t have to worry as much about the agency down the street
or a Web site that’s going to undercut them,” Dessler said.
“There’s much less price comparison and rebating activity. Go on
any Internet site and you won’t see any headlines about specials on
sailing the Norwegian coast up to the Arctic Circle.”
Contact NCMA at: c/o Dessler & Associates, 12920 NE 32nd
Place, Bellevue, WA 98005. E-mail: nichecruise@aol. com
The Niche Cruise Lines
American Canadian Caribbean Line: 800-556-7450
American West Steamboat Co.: 800-434-1232
Captain Cook Cruises: 866-331-3365
Cruise West: 800-426-7702
MSC Italian Cruises: 800-666-9333
Peter Deilmann Cruise: 800-348-8287
Norwegian Coastal Voyage: 800-323-7436
RiverBarge Excursion Line: 888-282-1945
Star Clippers: 800-442-0551