BY CRAIG SATTERFIELD, ECCS
When I first started selling cruises back around 1978, cruises were known as a great way to make great commissions. Cruise prices were higher than they are now, PLUS, there was no such thing as an NCF, the non-commissionable fee, a strange dollar amount taken from the commissionable fare for some unknown and secret reason only cruise lines are privy too. Ask a cruise line executive what they really are and they will change the subject faster than a parent being asked by their kid where a baby comes from. The major problem with an NCF is that it can be increased anytime by a cruise line which can seriously affect your bottom line. On some of those short, cheap cruises the amount of NCF can actually be at least or more than the so called sale price of the cabin. That takes your commissions down to a whopping 5% if you are lucky. These days you must take a look at your business plan to see if major cruise lines are worth your time and effort.
Good news seems to be on the horizon as Viking River Cruises, who has made tons of money without charging NCFs is getting into the deep water cruise business with a new ship coming out in about 2 years. Viking is going to stay consistent to their river cruise program. They have always offered a better commission to agents as well as shore excursions and wine with dinner. Very civilized I must say. We can all pray that when this ship is operational, other cruise lines will look at this model and rethink NCFs. Do you know of any other sector of travel that has this mysterious fee? I can’t!
In the meantime, there is a way for you to earn a better commission on those 7 night cruises to the Caribbean. Offer something that is almost impossible for bargain hunters to grind you on, plus you are able to give your guests a complete experience…PACKAGING.
Webster’s defines a package deal as “an offer or agreement involving a number of related items or one making acceptance of one item dependent on the acceptance of another.” We deal with package deals all the time in our daily lives, like “Free car wash with oil change,” shoe stores offering BOGO (buy one get one) and all of those As Seen on TV Products where you will end up with two tostada pans if you buy by midnight tonight. Why can’t you market cruises the same. With rare exceptions, your guests are going to buy more than just cruise. With the cruise itself, the price hangs out there like a beacon just waiting for another agent to discount it but with a package you can add all the extra things that your guests need and will buy anyway, many times not from you. You have the potential of adding to your profit margin and give your guests what they really need.
It would be impossible to package every cruise that a potential customer might ask for so you must take a pro-active approach instead. Just like a super market doesn’t carry every brand of mustard, you must determine the type of cruises your clients will be interested in as well as the ones you want to sell. If you choose sailings that are similar in length and destination you could add your packaging to a series of dates that are all doing the same thing.
So what to add? Obvious options come first such as:
* Travel insurance which has an excellent profit margin.
* Parking at the pier if you sell to a market close to where ships sail fromAirfare or bus transportation
* Special unique shore excursions that you have arranged with a tour operator in a selected port of call on an ongoing basis
* Pre-cruise hotel and tour if the ship is sailing from an interesting city like New Orleans
* Utilize special group programs with exclusive amenities which are offered thru many consortiums
* Find out in advance what special event might be held in the port of embarkation or one of the ports of calls such as theGasparilla Pirate Festival in Tampa
Not so obvious packages could include:
* Access to the Chef’s table dinners on board for foodies
* Arrangements for lessons from a gold pro and a round of golf at a famous club in one of the ports of call
* Sports fishing events that you can include when the ship is in port
* Musical events and concerts if the ship stays late or overnight in the selected port for music lovers
* Private tours in an art museum with arrangements for areas not open to the general public
Being pro-active marketing your packages is utmost to your success. Your packages will attract guests who are looking for a hassle free, all-inclusive cruise package or packages that include unique experiences. These would not being offered by any-other travel company so therefore impossible to price compare. You may find a niche and build your business to national acclaim as a result of your specialty packages. Special interest groups may be attracted to interesting packages and just think formal groups could be a result upping your profits even more.
Packaged cruises are a way to get out of the rat race of price matching or beating and offering more, not in just what the packages include but your expertise which is also included.