By Craig Satterfield
CLIA Elite Cruise Counselor Scholar
Many of you are finding that selling cruises is not what it used to be. You feel threatened by more competition by internet giants, trying to find a level playing field in pricing and too many non-commissionable fees and add-on amenities like air/sea packages. These additions that are not commissionable that cut the 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. That is the almost all-inclusive nature we used to find in cruising with all lines. These days most of the lines are trying every way they can to remove what used to be part of the cruise fare and charge for them as an optional benefit. This is what they call on-board revenue and they feel that his is the most important part of their income, taking a page from the airlines.
Yes, cruise fares in the past were a little higher than some of the bargains out there today but not that much really. When you cruise on the ships of today expect to pay extra for so many amenities that were part of that all-inclusive pricing like cocktails at Las Vegas night club prices, coffee drinks, arrival photographs at $25 a hit, stage shows and all of those new rides and attractions usually seen in an amusement park.
Another important sales benefit was the camaraderie of cruising with like-minded people. It was easy to run into new friends on board the ship, have a nice conversation or maybe a drink and see them several times a day as you went around the ship. Now with the gigantic ships that can sleep 4000 plus guests, you are lucky to see anybody more than once. Those of you that didn’t have the opportunity to cruise in the old days have no idea what you are missing. It was these things social things that brought me to cruising in the first place.
This seems very apparent with the large cruise lines. They want to offer all things to all people but I don’t think that is possible.
There is hope in the cruise business to develop a loyal, happy and profitable business selling cruises. The big box lines stay up late at night finding amenities to offer at additional costs but you can overcome that and make a commission on almost every element of what cruise line offer on board.
What I have done is to work on moving my regular cruise clients up to more deluxe lines that have many, many more amenities included in the fare. When do you the math (and 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 what cruising was once about. They include the drinks, excellent shore excursions, top wines, and many other benefits that are being charged or to some overcharged by the big box cruise lines. Adding up the costs of those benefits on popular cruise lines along with the fare, you will find these lines amazingly close in price once you add the on-board expenses. Plus there is an extremely important benefit; you get the commission benefits for all of that when you book the more luxurious lines. I have yet to have any of my clients that are now sailing on the luxury lines to move back to the big ships!
They love you for turning them on to the benefits offered by these cruise lines.
Another very important fact is that river cruises offer the same thing. This niche in the cruise industry is booming so you will want to get your piece of the river cruise business.
Identify yourself as an expert in these luxury and river cruises to develop this profitable business. If you don’t then somebody else will. How many times has a client not known that you sell a specific element of travel, haven’t bothered to ask you, and then has purchased it elsewhere (including high profit things like travel insurance or deluxe hotels)?
Advertise and market the value of these specialized cruises and identify yourself with those products. You may feel like you are taking that step of faith off the cliff but once you get started and the interest starts you will see that is was well worth it.
Remember to concentrate on those cruise lines that can make you some decent money. Spend some quality time with sales development managers with these companies and also get on line and learn as much as you can about them. Go thru their on line training programs. Cruise lines that offer low ball 3 and 4 night cruises don’t deserve your time.
So how do I take that first step into the world of profitable cruise sales? First start is to contact your clients on a regular basis about some of the cruises that you have heard about. Stress the value, all-inclusiveness and positive customer satisfaction that these lines deliver. The luxury lines are constantly adding new itineraries and new builds to their fleet so there is always a reason to contact them about new stuff. These lines are also the ones that find new and exciting ports of call. Since they do not operate those gigantic mega-ships, they can call at the smaller ports that offer memorable experiences as well as bragging rights for your clients. Bucket list cruisers love that idea too!
You do not always have to contact them just about something for them to buy. As you are developing your friendship with them, send them a handwritten note thanking them for their business or send birthday or anniversary wishes to keep your name in the forefront.
On the same subject, try not to assume how much your client can spend on a cruise! We all get the call that asks for the cheapest cruise but that is not what your client really wants. They are looking for a great cruise travel experience. You are the travel influencer and you will never be able to move your people up if you don’t try. Don’t sell on your own pocketbook! Remember that affluence is a mindset even if it isn’t for every trip they take.
If you find that selling a low commission cruises is taking too much of your time, then use technology to communicate to your clients. If you are high tech then you also have the time to be high touch for those clients that deserve your time. They are paying for cruises that you are making a decent commission on. Find ways to communicate with your low commission clients with email. These days there are so many decisions to make on low commission cruise lines when they do their pre-cruise check in. I understand many of you do the check in for your clients. Teach them what to do on the cruise line’s web check in and save yourself the time to sell profitable cruises. Have them do it for themselves. If they don’t have internet or have no tech savvy, then of course you will want to step in.
Identifying yourself with high quality, high value, cruises will be what all smart travel professionals will be selling in the future. Identifying yourself with these lines can open the door for supportive quality travel products like insurance, pre cruise hotels and private transportation in the port cities. The luxury market is the fastest growing segment in our industry and now is the time to get in the mix.