Home Based Travel Agents “Great Expectations”

By Joanie Ogg CTC MCC

On a recent NACTA Seminar at Sea aboard the beautiful Radisson Seven Seas Marnier a lengthy and very enlightening conversation took place that I felt would be interesting reading for this issue of Home Based Trade. Over the period of a 14 day itinerary from Los Angeles through the Panama Canal to Ft. Lauderdale the agents in our group discussed topics such as who is the Luxury Cruise Buyer and how best as agents can they meet the needs and wants of this buyer. What ensued over this journey from West to East were seasoned travel professionals sharing with one another their secrets of success reaching and pleasing the luxury cruise client.

Here are just some of the many tips and ideas they shared. My thanks to our contributors for their insight and willingness to share this with all of us.

The Expectation versus Experience

This was one of the areas we discussed in length as it seems that just about every one of these agents has dealt with the concerns they have of perhaps over selling expectations and then perhaps having the experience fall short of what the client read into that expectation. The common thread was that a travel agent must be very cautious as to not build clients expectation too high. While we want to make that sale and convince them this will be the perfect choice, we are still at risk since we will not be there to monitor that experience. In our zealous or perhaps over zealous enthusiasm to make the sale we might be building the dream beyond what can possibly be delivered by the experience.

Therefore the suggestions were to be honest and to provide as much information about the potential cruise as possible while using phrase such as ‘I sincerely hope that you will find this to be enjoyable” or ‘From what you have shared with me about what you like to do on your vacation and the research I have done, this choice certainly looks to meet your needs.” The overall thread of the agents discussing this was to not build up the dream so much that they expect too much. It is hard to put ourselves in the mind of our clients and to be sure they are not exaggerating their expectations. Use caution so that you will be able to help them make the vacation choice not to make the vacation choice for them. There is a very subtle difference that can be very important in the sales process.

Jan and Don Milligan, agents from Seattle said it well, ‘Don’t oversell! Make sure you point out both the good and perhaps some bad attributes of a chosen cruise so that your clients are aware of potential pitfalls that can happen but may not. Just be honest and don’t oversell what you cannot control’.

Jim and Nancy Terricianno from Maryland feel that luxury cruise clients do not want to be ‘nickeled and dimed” but instead enjoy a more inclusive experience. An example of this on Radisson is of course the wine and or cocktails included with dinner each evening as well as a 24/7 cappuccino machine to enjoy. These clients are looking for luxury amenities, atmosphere and accommodations. They enjoy having their needs and desires anticipated in advance and fulfilled. An accommodating staff and a willingness to accommodate is absolutely necessary as well. Jim and Nancy feel that it is possible for a travel consultant to lay out expectations for a client but they best have personal experience of a product in order to do so. Others shared that products change and even from ship to ship in the same line so agents really have to be on top of this in order to not oversell.

When we discussed what made it so attractive for a ‘discriminating” traveler to choose a more luxury focused cruise experience we came up with an overall theme that everyone seemed to agree upon. When this above client purchases a more luxury focused cruise they expect certain minimum level of service. This is something you must learn about your client so that you are able to match the client to the right cruise experience. Fran and Tom Nolan from Seattle said it very well. ‘They seek an environment not unlike their everyday expectations. They look forward to comfortable accommodations, excellent service, but more than that, an attitude that permeates their environment where they feel special and taken care of’.

I think that Margie Greenberg an agent from Atlanta said it very well when she shared that the overall desire she felt they are looking for in a luxury cruise experience is to feel pampered. It is probably safe to say ‘who does not want to be pampered?

It simply feels great to have people concerned and caring for your comfort and enjoyment. When a crew member on a ship remembers your name and your favorite cocktail it is always a bit astounding considering the thousands of people they service in their field. However, it is those ‘little nuances’ that might likely make or break a client’s expectation of a cruise experience. This of course is something you have no control over when and if it occurs, yet you can know what lines offer this special touch and meet customer to cruise experience or perhaps exceed their expectations by simply helping them to choose the right ship.

In closing, as I write this form my balcony cabin on the Seven Seas Mariner at 8:00am headed to Costa Rica my expectations have been exceeded by an event that is out of all our control. No less than 15 beautiful porpoises have just swum by and raised themselves to show me their beauty. Now that is a cruise experience not to be matched. However, I must say that I might have missed it had I not been in a balcony cabin. My final suggestion is to ‘Sell Balconies’!