Cruise Fams Have Never Been More Important, Part Two
by Richard D'Ambrosio
Cruise Fams Have Never Been More Important, Part Two

This is part two of a series on cruise fams. For part one, click here.

For cruise-selling travel agents, cruise fams are essential to staying current and growing their businesses. But the cruise fam landscape has changed. While cruise ship inspections and training-oriented fams have become more plentiful, full-fledged immersive fam cruises are rare.

Ship inspections and training fams are effective, but they’re not quite the same as the full cruise experience.

“It’s different. When you take four or five days or a whole week to experience a ship, you get a feel for the little things that you can sell to a client,” said Craig Satterfield, a CLIA elite cruise counselor with Sure Cruise and Cruise Travel Outlet, Las Vegas, and author of “Confessions from the Cruise Scholar,” a book about his 35 years selling cruise travel.

“I like to give clients information no one can get off a website or a brochure. Even if I don’t take a fam, if I take a cruise with my family, I’m looking for the details I can sell later.”

Carnival’s agent offerings
Carnival schedules what it calls “Seminars at Sea,” multi-day, rep-guided educational trips; it hosted 16 of those in 2015.

Carnival scours advance reservations to find ships where as many as 20 cabins might go unsold and plans these events, for which agents can register on the Carnival agent website. Carnival currently has an eight-night sailing in November to the Southern Caribbean, for example, priced at $706 for an interior stateroom and $1,187 for a stateroom with a balcony. A Carnival rep attends the full cruise, and agents receive training, get to go behind the scenes to view the ship’s operations, and attend typical guest activities and events.

Carnival encourages agents to bring someone with them. “We would love two agents from one office,” said Vicki Tomasino, regional vice president for Carnival’s Western U.S. sales, who heads up CCL’s travel agent fam program. “We know people’s experiences are better when they cruise with someone they know.”

For bigger occasions, like the introduction of a new ship, Carnival hosts larger fams with a celebratory atmosphere. Carnival’s Vista will start sailing from the U.S. this fall, so agents will be invited on fams departing from Miami and New York, Tomasino said.

Agent fams also are often held when ships are relocated to a different ports. The Carnival Breeze and Sunshine recently moved, and the company treated their arrival at new ports like inaugural sailings.

River cruise fams are more selective and intimate
Because river cruise lines have smaller ships, they need to be more discriminating. Richard Hickey, sales director for Scenic Cruises’ southeast region, said the line hosts two invitation-only fams a year, one in March or April, and then one in late November/early December.

“We look for agents who want to partner with us and support us, are passionate about river cruising and want to sell luxury,” said Hickey. “We have five or six members of our sales team on board to engage with the agents and go on the tours with them.”

Most of Scenic’s ships hold 169 passengers, so Scenic will invite about 100 agents and/or guests for these fams. Scenic typically highlights its eight-day Danube cruise between Nuremburg and Budapest on fams. The company also has hosted agent-only fams for inaugural sailings, excluding paying passengers.

Because Scenic is still building its brand in the U.S., its sales team invites both agents who currently book with the line and those who book river cruises with its competitors.

Fam rates too
Scenic also offers two different agent fam rates for eight-day sailings. There is a 20% discount for reservations made beyond 120 days; if an agent books closer in, the company charges $499, plus port charges and taxes, and $999 for a non-agent companion.

“It’s a popular program,” Hickey said. “But it’s hard for us to find the space.”

Agents are encouraged to take the Scenic specialist course prior to signing up for a fam rate. The program provides a general overview of the company, destinations, itineraries, land tours, and educates agents on Scenic’s all-inclusive concept. Agents take an exam at the end of the course.

If a travel agent closes a sale on Scenic within the first six months of taking a fam trip, the line will send them a $100 gift card per person booked.

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