Group sales can bring far more income for the effort than FITs, and the cruise lines are bending over backward to enrich the rewards. Cruise lines say agents often have a view of groups that is too limited; any set of people sailing at the same time on a ship can be a group and reap all the advantages. Groups can be drawn from many sources; for instance, churches or schools can give access and promotion in return for a tour conductor stateroom donated to the institution, since a non-affinity group doesn’t need the services of a conductor.
Whatever the nature of the group, agents have a better price to promote along with onboard amenities, which passengers will receive even if the full group is not booked. If pricing drops, many lines adjust the rate, automatically or by request. Many lines are offering generous terms to hold blocks of staterooms with minimal or no deposit.
Virtually every high-producing agent will attest to the importance of education, with today’s consumer so knowledgeable that very specific, focused learning is essential to offer superior service.
Cunard and Princess have their academies; NCL has its university, complete with sophisticated networking. Holland America Line has transformed its paper resource book into the new online Travel Agent Headquarters and Carnival Cruise Lines is overhauling its already advanced Carnival University, formerly product-based, to show agents how to respond to the various generations and varieties of clients. Groups like the Niche Cruise Marketing Association, including 16 specialty cruise lines, also offer online training opportunities and live training seminars.
Most of all, every cruise line and analyst stresses the importance of direct experience, and fams are linked directly to increased agent sales. AmaWaterways regards these experiences as particularly important for river cruising, a different kind of experience often not fully understood by agents.
Agents who promote these increasingly special deals get credit and commission for the sale as well as customer appreciation and loyalty for benefits to the client, all with very little effort and administrative time. By reminding and encouraging clients to book future cruises while on board (some are open bookings without a decision at the time and many require only minimal deposit), the client gets a great deal and the agent has sold another cruise. Princess Cruises, for instance, requires only $100 to nail down a $150 onboard credit at a future date that can be determined later and is fully refundable. In many cases, the agent can suggest a specific sailing to book when clients discuss where they want to go in the future. Agents also use tools from email reminders to flyers that can be filled out before the cruise and taken to the cruise line representative while on board.
Cruise Line Sales Representatives
The cruise lines’ field sales people are extremely knowledgeable and experienced, and can offer much more than the brochures and upgrades that they are often called upon to provide. They can assist agents with business plans, share best practices, make presentations with the agent, host cruise nights and present for group sales. They can also bring their experience to bear in helping agents channel new business and make the best use of co-op funds.
Field representatives also can teach agents how best to use the many new technological tools that will save them time and make their sales pitches more impressive. In fact, Royal Caribbean International has just launched a program in which sales reps are relieved of their administrative duties so all agents registered in their system can have personal visits to walk them through the tools in the line’s ASAP program and help them discover how easy and efficient they are to use.
Agents can take a marketing tip from successful tour operators and put a database of happy clients to greater use. On great advantage of cruise vacations is the satisfaction level with the product, and savvy agents are making sure that their services are written all over the experience, from customized promotional materials to extras in the staterooms or on shore excursions.
Previous passengers who benefited from agent services and enjoyed their cruises are not just strong prospects for future sailings; they are resources for building family and affinity groups and giving third party endorsements for agencies. Tauck, with heavy experience in tours and cruising, suggests that agents can display photographs from former clients at cruise nights and on their Web sites; these are an incentive, too, for the clients to send their friends and family to the sites. Quotes from these past passengers can be used as well, online and in direct marketing.