Sporting a fresh rebranding, Avoya Travel has officially opened its new Innovation Center in San Marcos, Calif., as part of its master plan to become the world’s No. 1 vacation platform.
During the grand opening event in North County San Diego, I saw firsthand how much the company’s philosophy is centered around people and collaboration. Those people include suppliers, travelers and, of course, independent agents (IAs) in the Avoya Travel Network. As 70% of Avoya’s business comes from the cruise segment, great relationships with cruise lines are crucial. And the company is inviting them to play a more direct role in accessing and updating their interface with the hybrid host agency.
I chatted with Brad Anderson, one of the co-founders of the family-owned company, about the cruise market’s current and future prospects.
From a cruise perspective, what does Avoya uniquely offer IAs and, in turn, their customers?
Let’s start with step one: customers. We offer an easy-to-navigate website where they can do a lot of information gathering, and we pack in not just the standard stuff, but also our promotions. Without a lot of training, consumers can get the gist of what’s out there and what might fit into their plans.
Step two: Booking engines are great, but with cruising, there are 80 different categories on a typical ship, so it’s very complex. What we’ve built is a system for our IAs where, rather than spending hours trying to figure out the best deal, they can enter the criteria into the proprietary system that delivers results. All the promotions are loaded, and it’s in a searchable database that’s kept up to date. We use technology and smart people to bring the best promotion to the top. That’s probably the biggest value that advisors play today — deciphering the code.
How will the Innovation Center play into Avoya’s overall focus on people and innovation?
We wanted an efficient new space with great amenities where it’s pleasant to come to work. This building has a lot of room, and as tenants move out, we can expand. It’s centered around collaboration; we don’t want people in silos.
What is the current outlook for selling cruises in 2020?
Wave Season started earlier this year; December surprised us with strong double-digits. Normally, election years aren’t that great, but I think people are over it and they want a break. And I think cruise lines got out early this year with some really effective promotions and advertising. The demand is absolutely there; this could be one of the best years in a long time.
Are there any specific markets that are propelling sales?
Expedition’s still tiny, but it’s exciting, and it reminds me of river cruising 20 years ago. River created this whole new category for us that is now huge, and it’s high satisfaction, high profit. I think expedition is going to be the same way. The market is much larger, and I think the companies getting into it are very smart. They’re building products that are just the right size. Give it five years, and it’ll be completely on fire with high yield, high satisfaction. For baby boomers who have the time and have done the river cruise, done the ocean cruise and done the all-inclusive experience, this is a natural fit.
The other areas that continue to sell relentlessly include Europe. I’m hot on Alaska and the Caribbean, too. And then there’s Mexico: I love the fact that Carnival Cruise Line brought a new ship out here.
Do you have any sales tips for this Wave Season?
I started as a frontline travel agent 40 years ago, so my advice is this: Know the product, and know the destination. The internet provides all that for free to your prospect. If you haven’t already done your research, you can’t fake it. You’ve got to know it.
And then ask those qualifying questions, because if you’re doing all the talking, at the end of the conversation, you’re not going to know anything about who you talked to. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’ll get back to you in 20 minutes” if you need to look something up.
Ask clients how they want you to communicate with them, because there are a lot of people who don’t prefer being contacted via phone call anymore. It may be text, it may be email, it may be both. You have to be available when they want to talk. And then, of course, follow through on what you say you’re going to do.