This week, more than 900 travel advisors gathered at the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Fla. for the return of CLIA’s Cruise 360 Conference.
The conference was a celebration of all that advisors have endured over the past 16 months, and a preparation for what’s to come in the cruise industry, a major rebound period that’s going to provide a huge opportunity for advisors to accelerate their business and help to bring cruising past its 2019 peak.
In order to help their partners succeed, seven members of the cruise line community joined Nexion’s Jackie Friedman onstage to talk about what they learned about themselves and the industry during the pandemic and to give their best advice for travel advisors to fully prepare for the upcoming rebound.
Here are some highlights of what they said:
1. Build a detailed database—and then use it
One of the most common traits among successful travel advisors is having a detailed database for each and every client.
John Diorio, associate vice president of North American sales at Virgin Voyages, told advisors that they should “get a lot of content on what they did on those vacations, the details will help you understand what you customer wants to experience on future trips.”
For Virgin Voyages, for example, knowing that clients either want an adult-only experience or are looking for clients who want to go on a holiday without their children, particularly after 16 months of a pandemic, is going to be important.
“Those are just the little things,” he said.
2. Don’t let FCCs “see you later”
The last 16 months have been an extraordinarily difficult time for the travel advisor community. And while it’s time to turn the page, don’t forget about your clients who have future cruise credits (FCCs) leftover from COVID-19.
“Don’t let FCCs see you later,” Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and trade support and service for Royal Caribbean said. “It’s so important to follow up on the FCC.”
According to Freed, 1.7 million Royal Caribbean guests took out an FCC during COVID and there are still “lots of FCCs out there,” she said.
The job of the travel advisor now is to follow up with them now that inventory has opened up and cruise lines are back to sailing.
“We want you to get that business back,” Freed said.
3. Keep customer relationships strong
One of the biggest, and easiest, ways to continue to build relationships with clients is simply to be in constant communication. And while sending emails, or writing notes, or touching base on the phone can be an easy thing to do, it’s important to realize it’s how you do it, too.
“Instead of saying ‘How was your trip?,’ which is going to get you things about flight delays, the better question is ‘what was your favorite part of the vacation,” Todd Hamilton, senior vice president at Norwegian Cruise Lines said.
What that will do is bring positivity into the answer. You will get clients speaking about their highlights, the things that made the trip so special for them instead of what went wrong.
4. Know your clients and keep marketing simple
There are so many different ways that travel advisors can market cruises to their clients, but the most important thing has always been, and remains, building a consistent, and simple marketing plan.
“It doesn’t have to be complicated,” Jamie Paiko, vice president of sales for Cunard North America said. “Have a simple, multi-channel communication strategy,” with at least two touch points “will improve booking tremendously.”
“I think you can round out that plan if you have some social media in place,” she added. “Having a deep curiosity about your clients is critical to the environment, the more you can understand them” the easier it will be.
5. Start selling—now
During the pandemic, with the short-term future of the cruise industry up in the air, it was completely fine to take a step back from talking to clients about bookings. Simply staying in touch was fine. But, 16 months after the shutdown, it’s time to start selling.
“We should be focused on advertising, marketing, taking time to put stuff on social media, and we should have a much more direct approach on selling,” Carnival Cruise Line senior vice president of sales and trade marketing Adolfo Perez said. “It’s time for a much more assertive and aggressive approach to selling.”
Perez also mentioned those outstanding FCCs out there as prime opportunities for travel advisors.
“There are FCCs out there that have still not been claimed. Those are the lowest hanging fruit that you could possibly have,” he said.
6. Remember how, and who, got you through
"You know what guys, we have stuck together, your resilience and our resilience as an industry,” Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president of sales at Celebrity Cruises said.
Even with the industry on its way back, advisors need to keep things in perspective. It was a battle for so many to make it through the last 16 months and while things are certainly better, putting things in perspective can help keep things positive even when roadblocks start to appear.
Asked about her accomplishments in 2020, MSC Cruises’ Michelle Lardizaba echoed just that.
“I think in terms of accomplishments it’s gotta be that I’m a survivor,” she said. “It’s been a tumultuous year for all of us. The fact that we’re here at CLIA Cruise 360, I think is incredible.”