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If actions speak louder than words, Crystal Cruises recently gave its top travel agents an impressive demonstration of its willingness to listen, respond and work together.
During the first session at the company’s 23rd Sales Achievement Gala cruise onboard Crystal Serenity in Europe, Deborah Deming of Frosch Classic Cruise and Travel in Woodland Hills, Calif., raised a concern that travel agents have struggled with across the industry: How do you deal with clients who booked early when a cruise line drops prices for the same cruise closer to its departure?
“Look at it from my side of the desk,” Deming told Crystal executives. “What shall I tell my people who booked early and then found out that others who booked afterwards got a better price? I know it’s necessary sometimes, but can you give me something to make it right with my clients?”
Two days later she had an answer.
Crystal vice chairman Jack Anderson acknowledged that the alternate-month promotions the line offers when needed “have been disruptive and created issues” for travel agents. He added that Crystal regrets that such promotions are necessary and noted that they are only offered on select sailings. He said travel agents could tell their clients that 80 percent of the time, if they wait to book, they end up paying more.
Then Anderson told the group that a travel agent had approached Crystal president and COO Edie Rodriguez at lunch with a solution to the problem: that promotions be run on a no-stateroom-assignment basis. Travel agents could then tell their clients who booked earlier that they could have the same lower price or an onboard credit as the promotional offer, but they would have to give up their reserved staterooms. Other gala attendees were already applauding when Anderson said the change would go into effect the next time Crystal does such a promotion.
“In 23 years, I have never been listened to and responded to the way Crystal has done,” Deming told TravelAge West.
Other agents agreed and praised Crystal for its swift response, as well as the familial and collaborative culture that allowed the travel agent to make the suggestion directly to the line’s president.
Top Sellers from 19 Countries
The global nature of Crystal’s partnerships was evident in the 91 agents attending the Gala from 19 countries. The group collectively booked $130 million in cruise sales for Crystal in 2013, according to the cruise line. All 91 agents on the cruise achieved the required $500,000 in annual Crystal sales; 50 of them sold more than $1 million and 26 more sold more than $2 million.
COO Rodriguez said she would like the line’s capacity to reflect the global nature of Crystal, including her vision to increase from two ships to seven ships to sail the seven seas. She noted that even if Crystal put in a newbuild order now, it would be three years before the ship’s debut. Rodriguez and other Crystal executives hinted at the possibility of acquiring a ship and bringing it up to Crystal’s standards.
Noting that the company includes a diverse mix of nationalities, Rodriguez emphasized Crystal’s collaborative approach and said both employees and travel agents are encouraged and rewarded for their suggestions.
For example, Cruise Builder, Crystal’s online booking engine for agents, has new functions that came from agent requests. These include a search function and the ability to add arrival and departure information and arrange transfers quickly. Crystal’s air/sea program has a new personal selection aspect, drawn from the line’s travel agent advisory board, which allows agents to specify airline, class and date 10 months before departure. If the client is not ready to book air at the time of booking, agents will be prompted in six months with an email reminder to go back to the client.
Anderson told gala attendees that while they may think that, at their best, they are making dreams come true, they do much more.
“Travel is about karma,” he said. “And karma is more than ‘what goes around comes around.’ It’s about your impact on the world.”
Anderson told agents that travel and tourism is the most powerful force for peace in the world, noting that the industry encourages democracy, tolerance and diversity and rewards entrepreneurship. Mulling over the industry’s reaction to recent events in Crimea, Bangkok and Egypt, Anderson noted that tourism by its very nature shuns war and violence and rejects intolerance, tyranny and racism.
“Travel and tourism cherish nature and seek to protect the environment and history,” he added.