While there’s no magic elixir to guarantee success selling cruises (or any travel product), there are a number of proven tactics that can propel travel advisors in the right direction.
Client qualification, planning for the future, and staying engaged with clients were some of the tips and tricks that cruise executives shared with attendees at Travel Market Report’s Travel Market Place West conference, held in Vancouver earlier this month.
(Toronto-area advisors, Travel Market Place East is just around the corner, June 22-23. Get your ticket now.)
Qualify Your Clients for the Win
One of the main requirements for being a successful seller of cruises is to match the right product to the right client, panelists emphasized.
“Every cruise line that you sell has the right customer,” Derek Lloyd, vice president of sales for Norwegian Cruise Line, said. “You need to make sure that you’re putting the right customer on the right cruise. And that starts with knowing the differences between the products themselves. Every single one of us delivers a slightly different experience.”
Justin French, regional vice president, Canada/Western US, for Carnival Cruise Line, echoed Lloyd but added that advisors need to keep their assumptions to themselves. “The most important thing is making sure that you are selling the product through their eyes and not through yours,” said French. “It’s what they’re looking for and what they’re asking to do… mate the right person to the right product and you cannot lose. It’s a guaranteed win/win/win for you for many years to come.”
Qualifying clients is as important for the luxury cruise lines as it is for the mainstream lines. You can’t assume that just because someone has money they want a small luxury cruise, said Beverley Vickers, director of sales and marketing, Canada for Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
“You can have the wealthiest guy in Canada who happens to love Go-Karts and going on roller coasters.” He’d be better off on Norwegian or Carnival than Regent Seven Seas.
“It’s really important that you ask the questions and understand the customer’s desires and wants, and where they see themselves,” she added.
Create a Long-Term Vacation Plan
Panelists also talked about the importance of creating long-term vacation plans with their clients, as a means of ensuring future business.
“Don’t only know what the customer’s next trip is,” said Alan Brooks, director of market sales for Canada at Celebrity Cruises. “Know what their next trip is and the trip after that and the trip after that… have a five year plan at a minimum for your client.”
Creating these longer-term plans requires getting to know your clients on a deeper level, the panelists said.
The easiest path to creating long term plans is built around milestones.
“It’s the perfect place to start because you know people tend to spend a little more money,” Vickers said.
Ask thoughtful questions, Lloyd added. Where do you dream of going? If you could go one place in the world, where would you go? As a kid, where did you picture yourself traveling to?
Then layer in questions about their interests. Do they love history or culinary experiences?
With those answers you can tailor your suggestions for next year’s travel or the year after. For instance, if they like history, you can suggest a European river cruise, which is full of history and castles, Lloyd said.
“Maybe there’s a big anniversary coming up and that might be the year they splurge,” Brooks said, perhaps on something like a bucket list trip to the Galapagos.
“Know what is on the horizon,” he added, “because that way, you’re in a position of picking up the phone and saying ‘I know you just traveled three months ago and you’re not ready to go quite yet, but I wanted to let you know I saw this good deal on this thing that you’ve been talking about, maybe for 2024.’”
It’s this personal level of service, Brooks said, that separates travel advisors form OTAs or DIY booking tools. “That’s your value.”
Engagement Is Key
Related to the above is the need to stay engaged with your clients. You can’t know what your clients dream about if you’re not having conversations with them.
“The ones that are reaping the rewards [of the travel resurgence] are the ones that stayed engaged and present,” said French.
If that also means being active on social media or starting a podcast, so be it, he said.
Carla Brake, director of business development at the Globus family of brands, which includes Avalon Waterways, and NCL’s Lloyd both agreed that being present on social media is important, especially in terms of sharing your own travel.
“Now is the time to get out there, showcase that travel is back. Showcase that you’re willing to travel and share it on social media,” Brake said.
Lloyd echoed the sentiment. “You need to start traveling yourself. You need to be posting. You need to be showing people that travel is back and it’s back with a vengeance. You need to be inspiring them with destinations, not just what’s the next deal on the table.”
Engagement takes proactivity. You can’t wait for clients to reach out to you.
“You cannot wait for the customer to call you,” Brooks told attendees. “People tend to buy from the last person they spoke to. And, while you are very aware that you sell travel, they sometimes forget. Pick up the phone, call them, email them.”
“One of the big things is just suggesting a river cruise to someone,” said Brake. “They only know what they know… I think your client will go anywhere that you tell them to go. They really rely on your expertise. Sometimes it’s just opening that conversation.”
… And Strategic
Who you choose to focus your attention on also matters, Vickers said, speaking of advisors she’s seen having the most success.
“They realize they have to be more strategic about who they sell and they’re trying to narrow down the sales funnel. They’re not trying to be everything to everybody… they’re deciding that they consciously want to move their clients up.”
While she agreed that it’s tempting to grab whatever business you can when the going gets tough, she said staying intentional is better in the long run.
“Turn away business, fire clients that aren’t going to get you where you want to be.”
That also means putting the suppliers you want to work with in front of your clients, even if they’re not quite ready for it yet.
“Whether the client knows it or not, they [the advisors] have decided that Regent should be on their radar and they’re going to keep it in front of them until they realize it themselves.”
Carnival’s French also recommended advisors focus on multi-gen travel for the moment.
“People have been locked in their homes looking at their grandparents on Zoom for the last two years. Now they’re all coming together. It’s a great opportunity to plant the seed of a multi-gen [cruise] where there’s something for everybody on board.”