By Craig Satterfield, Elite Cruise Counselor Scholar
We have all experienced on television a show that has great ratings. We have enjoyed it until the old adage, “if one is good then 10 more is 10 times better” comes into play. Now we have 10 of the same shows and we end up frustrated and don’t want to watch any of them.
With cruise lines copying some of other lines successful agency programs then we all benefit from the cruise line’s additional education, personal experience and the potential to make more commission.
There is one big cruise line which has been having image problems of lately which has been deeply cutting into their stock holder’s profits. Their decision to stray away from the agent distribution system several years ago compromised their profitably so the image repair experts figured it was time to bring travel agents back into the fold. Many travel professionals wanted to tell this line what they thought of its new marketing plans so the executives bucked up and started a program to make nice to the agency community.
A conversational program was born so these execs could listen to new ideas from agents that were really not new, but had been slowly and quietly thrown out in favor of direct business from clients on their website. These so called new programs were the same cooperative programs that the line had always offered agent partners during their big growth heydayin previous years. Agents complained and standard business partner programs offering co-op advertising, “see your travel agent” tags in advertising and amenities for group contracts started to reappear. These are sales and marketing programs that other cruise lines have continued to offer over the years. This was a great example of how travel professions are important in the distribution system.
As a result of this conversational program the cruise line has now simplified their fare structure, has promised stronger cooperation with agents and is offering better group amenities and pricing to attempt to win back the many agents who have felt that the line had turned their backs on them. I hope it is working but I am sure some of the seasoned agents are taking a wait and see attitude about it.
Here comes Norwegian Cruise Line, who has always supported the travel community as a true travel marketing partner. There should be absolutely no guilt from Norwegian as they have always offered what agents needed. Not to be left behind their executives are putting themselves in the “hot seat” with a new program entitled, “Ask Away,” a live video based chat which gives the agent community a chance to ask Norwegian executives any question they like with no subject off limits. The chats are archived so you can check out the answers whenever you like. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is!
Norwegian has also announced that they are copying a long time Princess perk for agents by offering a free cruise to those agents that have taken and maintain cruise line training and passed the tests on their NCLU program. They have not gone all the way with a totally free cruise like Princess, but are now offering something almost as good. They plan to charge agents taxes and fees which will not make it really free now will it.
What kind of copycat programs do you think we might see in the future?
The big box cruise lines are toying with all inclusive drink programs which could very well go cruise ship wide in a couple of years. You are starting to see, from several cruise lines that charge for their alternative dining options, a package that includes all cover charges for these specialized dining offerings. Guests can order these in advance of their cruise departure on line when they are doing the pre-cruise check in. Now we need to make sure that these packages are commissionable to agents.
On deluxe cruise lines, they are now offering unlimited shore excursions for no extra charge in each port of call. Since food and drink options were always pretty much included in the fares anyway, this idea could go cruise ship wide in the deluxe market. This shore excursion program adds one more important part in trying to build the all-inclusive nature back to the cruise industry which I would heartily welcome.
Back in 1890 Charles Colton coined the phrase, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” so I hope the good ideas that have come from cruise line executives, creative travel professionals and the latest trends continue to improve the cruise line experience for those that are sailing as well as for the hard working travel professionals that strive to know all the details clients are asking about.
Since the cruise lines are carefully watching each other, why not agents too. I know we all get involved in the day to day work of booking and problem solving but keeping watch on other successful travel professionals could be a New Year’s resolution that might really pay off. Slowly there are new players in the retail travel business, many young entrepreneurs that have excellent new ideas utilizing the latest in technology with cell phones, pads and possibly new ideas that are not even out yet.
The traveling public has now seemed to realize that they are much better off relying on an experienced travel professional than just some info on a website. The pendulum is swinging back to retail sales experts, which is really great news. That does not mean that things are going back the way they were. Far from it! These young agents are learning fast about the World helped by technology that they have mastered and we need to do it too. This is the way travel is going and it is time for us to welcome them and the technology to the party.