Craig Satterfield ECCS
The Cruise Scholar
Many of you are finding that selling cruises is not what it used to be. Competition by internet giants selling only on price can hurt your opportunity to develop new clients and with it long term repeat bookings. Guests that book only on line, thinking that it is cheaper, may not realize your tremendous value in the long term. Your experience could make the difference in the cabin that is chosen, the experiences cruisers will have in the ports of call, as well as logistics like air scheduling, travel insurance information and other important details. As a professional you can share dozens of valuable tidbits that generally are not shared by those selling on the net. The assumption of internet shoppers that you cannot deliver a competitive price is also, most of the time, a big mistake!
To make it even harder, we deal with un-level playing fields when it comes to price and non-commissionable fees and add-ons that seem to cut commissions to the bone.
The great sales tool to promote cruises is now a thing of the past, at least with the larger cruise lines, which is the almost all-inclusive nature of cruising. These days the lines are trying every way they can to remove the great benefits of cruising that used to be part of the cruise fare and charge for them as an optional benefit, again with no commissions to you.
Another important reason clients returned to cruising over and over was the camaraderie of cruising with like-minded people. It was easy to run into new friends as you strolled on board the ship. You would have nice conversations and see them several times a day. Now with the gigantic ships that can sleep 4000 people you are lucky to see anybody more than once. Those of you that have never had the opportunity to cruise either in the old days or on board smaller ships, have no idea what you are missing. It was these things that brought me to cruising in the first place.
It is very apparent at least with the large cruise lines that they want to offer all things to all people. I don’t think that is possible. I am happy to announce that there is hope as you continue to build your cruise business that you can develop loyal and happy clients, and at the same time, grow a profitable business.
I spend a good deal of time finding ways to maximize my profits in selling cruises and at the same time I find more options to create a total package for my clients.
What I have done is to consciously work on moving my cruise clients that regularly take mass market cruises up to the more all-inclusive deluxe lines. When you do the math (as my grandmother used to say, arithmetic….not an opinion!) you will find that lines like Regent Seven Seas, Seaborne, Crystal, and Silversea still offer something very close to the all-inclusive nature what cruising was once about. This means the drinks, tours and more deluxe dining are included in the cruise fare which is all commissionable to you. When you add what people spend on board with popular cruise lines along with the fare these days, you will find the totals amazingly close. Not only are you earning the commission benefits for all of that, you also receive a great review when they come back. Remember this extremely important fact that river cruises offer the same high commission opportunities! If you haven’t started to build your marketing in this rapidly growing division of cruising, now is the time to start!
It is important to identify yourself as an expert in these luxury and river cruise lines to develop this profitable business. If you don’t then somebody else will. Know and offer these lines and the benefits they offer otherwise your clients will look elsewhere. How many times does a client not know that you sold a specific type of travel, haven’t bothered to ask you and has purchased it on line or from a competitor? This includes high profit things like travel insurance or deluxe hotels!
I have found that the deluxe lines have excellent educational and training programs, so there is no excuse not to be versed in the value they offer.
Advertise and market the value of specialized cruises especially those that can make you some decent money. Contact your clients on a regular basis about some of the cruises that you have recently learned about and don’t forget the ones that you may have just completed on line training with!
Cruise lines are constantly adding new itineraries and new builds to their fleet so there is always a reason to contact them about new stuff. Also you do not always have to contact them about something for them to buy. As you are developing your friendship with them, you can always send them a handwritten note thanking them for their business or sending birthday or anniversary wishes to keep your name in the forefront. Their reply may be a perfect excuse to tell them about a new cruise that you have just discovered.
On that subject, do not ever assume how much your client can spend on a cruise! We all get the call that asks for the cheapest cruise but nine times out of ten that is not what your client really wants. You are the travel influencer. Qualify and build a rapport and your professionalism and expertise will take precedence over price.
If you don’t try to influence your repeat cruisers, you will never be able to move your people up to the deluxe lines.
Don’t sell on your own pocketbook! Remember affluence is a mindset even if it isn’t for every trip they take.
Cruise lines that offer low ball 3 and 4 night cruises are time wasters for you and I know you really do not want to send them walking. If you find that selling a low commission cruise is taking too much of your time, use technology to communicate to these clients. Find ways to communicate with your low commission clients with email. If you are high tech with them, then you will also have the time to be high touch with those clients that deserve your time. These would be the clients that are paying for cruises that you are making a decent commission on.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, I spend quite a bit of time researching new products to present to my regular clients. As an example I offered one of my repeaters an exciting 14 night circumnavigation cruise around Iceland on a deluxe soft adventure ship. He jumped at this chance. Completing the rest of the package besides the commission to be made on the cruise (with no non-commissionable fees I might add), was the business class airfare, the hotel night before the cruise, the travel insurance and the fully commissionable shore excursions that are offered by the line! More examples include a deluxe train journey, (a land cruise), in South Africa, South American River cruises in Brazil and Peru, and even something local which was a cruise aboard a paddle wheeler on the Mississippi River!
If you find that your clients are still booking the traditional Caribbean and Alaska cruises on the big box cruise lines, you can still find ways to create value added packaging with third party insurance, ground transportation, shore excursions not sold by the cruise lines and pre and post stays in the port cities. These added packages are commissionable to you but play an even more important purpose. That is to show your client that you are looking out for their best interests in providing a complete and well thought out travel experience that they will appreciate for years.