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Although it still featured all the usual suspects, CruiseWorld 2020 looked a little different this year.
Like most travel industry conferences, the annual event, which is hosted by Northstar Travel Group (the parent company of TravelAge West), went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And in addition to cruise line executives sharing the latest on future deployments, destinations and safety protocols, the agenda also introduced a new form of programming that put travel advisors, such as attendee Danny Genung, on center stage.
Hosting both a Critical Conversations session on Creative Marketing Messages (led alongside Brianna Glenn, travel designer and founder of Milk + Honey Travels) and an educational workshop on Making YouTube Work for Any Size Business, Genung, the owner of Harr Travel, revealed the secrets to connecting with clients through YouTube.
Since its establishment 14 months ago, his agency’s channel has racked up about 34,000 subscribers and led to whopping $5 million in new business.
“A year and a half ago, I was the most old school of old-school travel agents,” he said. “My grandfather owned the business before me. We are almost 40 years old. I basically scrapped everything we had been doing for the past 39 years and decided to move onto YouTube.”
A year and a half ago, I was the most old-school of old-school travel agents … I basically scrapped everything we had been doing for the past 39 years and decided to move onto YouTube.
Genung began uploading his first videos just prior to the pandemic, beginning with a ship tour of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Joy, which he filmed during the ship’s inaugural U.S. sailing. From there, he incorporated in-depth stateroom tours, focusing on details that clients couldn’t easily find from an online web search. Other cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, then partnered with Genung to produce full ship tours.
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Once COVID-19 hit and most cruise lines halted sailings, however, the strategy changed.
“I got a lot of negative feedback from customers when we sent out mass emails, so we ended up telling our customers that we were moving all the [agency’s] news onto our YouTube channel, and they could view it there as they liked,” Genung said, noting that since he was no longer able to visit ships in person, he began uploading shorter videos where he directly addressed common client questions in addition to discussing industry news, such as the lift of the CDC’s No-Sail Order.
“It was a great opportunity to move into answering questions such as how to use an FCC (future cruise credit) or what’s in a beverage package,” he said. “We started answering the questions our customers were asking over the phone … this opened up an entirely new audience.”
Although cruise is a large part of Harr Travel’s business, Genung also took the opportunity to focus on other sectors of travel, such as all-inclusive resorts in Mexico that were open and accepting U.S. travelers.
“We couldn’t sell cruises that were going to depart, and a small part of our business was all-inclusives, so we went down to Mexico and filmed 12 resorts this summer,” he said. “Just in that time period, it’s added a couple-hundred thousand dollars in new revenue that we get paid now.”
Pre-Produced Videos vs. LivestreamsIn addition to producing edited videos — for which Genung has hired a full-time employee — the agency has also begun using YouTube’s livestreaming service for short, bite-size videos that address travelers’ pain points and customer concerns each week. In the last three months, the majority of customers, located all across the U.S., have come through this channel, according to Genung, who is based in Southern California.
“Most consumers, from what I’ve found, did not understand the role of a travel advisor, and almost all of our new customers are booking for the first time through a travel advisor,” he said. “A year ago, 95% of my clients were referrals and within 150 miles of me. Now, only 1% are. And most are on the East Coast because of YouTube."
A year ago, 95% of my clients were referrals and within 150 miles of me. Now, only 1% are.
The best time to livestream, Genung has found, is Friday evening. He’s noticed that many of his audience are young travelers — those in Generation Z — who find him through YouTube’s search history and share his content with their trip-planning parents.
“I think the pandemic has helped us, because it’s put people at home,” he said. “A huge portion of our customers are middle school kids. They sit their families down and say ‘let’s watch this [ship or room] tour.’ All of the members of the family have gotten together to enjoy it.”
Another benefit to livestreams? Humans “love interaction and instant feedback,” and livestreams allow Genung to instantly address potential client questions.
Tips for Advisors New to YouTubeDuring his sessions, Genung encouraged his fellow CruiseWorld attendees to share his videos and content with their own clients (he says he always makes it a point to direct viewers to their travel advisor), or even consider making videos themselves.
Ensuring clear audio and a steady camera is imperative, Genung said, pointing out that a smartphone and Apple’s iMovie will be adequate for filming, but he also uses a portable light, a lapel mic, a tripod and a gimbal (for steadying the camera).
YouTube also tends to reward consistency in posting by boosting exposure to accounts that consistently upload new content, Genung said.
“We put out about five to six videos per week since this time last year,” Genung said. “If you aren’t going to be consistent, I wouldn’t count on YouTube as being a place to grow your business.”
I believe that if you keep it authentic, that’s the way to close sales.
YouTube also automatically adds closed captioning to videos, so it’s important to say buzz words when speaking, he added. If a YouTube user searches for those phrases on the platform, videos that incorporate those words will rise to the top.
“On our 45-minute video on the Oceania [Cruises] Sirena, I mention every single word that could possibly be associated with that ship,” Genung said. “So, when someone is searching for the Ralph Lauren collection on Oceania, they’ll hear me talking about it.”
Another tip? Know your audience, and think about what demographic you want to connect with.
“As our customers ask questions, we answer them. For example, did your clients all check into their cruise? Make a five-minute video discussing how to do an online check-in,” he recommends.
But perhaps the most important advice Genung has for advisors looking to use the platform for business is quite simple, and rings true in any form of client-advisor interaction: Be yourself.
“People are going to be drawn to you— not a fake persona that you put on,” he said. “The simple things that bother you, bother them. We’ve done it all organically, and I believe that if you keep it authentic, that’s the way to close sales.”