EDITOR'S NOTE: Travel Market Report is pleased to welcome back as a guest columnist former leisure editor Dori Saltzman. Saltzman has covered the cruise industry for both consumer and trade publications.
Carnival Cruise Lines is facing a wee bit of a PR problem.
Even if you don't work in the travel industry, it's virtually impossible to get through a day without seeing Carnival mentioned in the national news.
The media just keeps rehashing Carnival’s woes, whether it’s a reference to the Triumph “poop” cruise, news of a ship that failed a CDC inspection or of a ship with propulsion issues – or even in reporting that Carnival is investing heavily in emergency backup systems.
But what's bad news for Carnival isn't necessarily bad news for cruise sellers. Cruise consultants can turn the negative news into a positive outcome.
Turn it around
Anecdotally, I've been hearing that selling Carnival, particularly to new cruisers, is more difficult than ever before.
I'm not saying that travel agents should play on the public's fears by bringing up Carnival’s problems; the truth is Carnival is just as safe as any other major line. But if clients do voice concerns, that’s your chance to offer alternatives.
Dealing with price shoppers
For cruisers who are not put off by Carnival’s problems – and who are eager to take advantage of the continuing promotions and, dare we say, discounts that Carnival is offering – travel sellers also can help. For a price.
Why bother, you may ask. After all, these are consumers who are driven by price and therefore are the type of client you don't want.
Here's why you should bother – and how.
When a new or current customer contacts you who is clearly looking for the lowest price, tell them about Carnival’s Early Saver Program (assuming it's available for the sailing date in question). Explain that if the price goes down, they'll get the difference in price in the form of an onboard credit.
Then – and here's the key point – let them know that you charge an extra fee for the service of monitoring for price drops.
Charge for price monitoring
I suggest giving two options.
The customer can watch for a price drop, then you submit the first Price Protection claim for free. After that, you charge a per-claim fee.
Or, for a flat fee that customers pay upfront, you offer to monitor prices daily, or every other day, and submit however many Price Protection claims are needed. If you want, you can offer some type of guarantee, such as: if there is no price drop on that sailing, you'll refund part of the flat fee.
Will price-driven customers balk at this? Yes, most will. If they do, fine – good riddance. You don't want that customer anyway. She or he is only interested in what you can give them; not what you can do for them.
But the flip side is there's a minority who will not balk. These are the clients who will appreciate the time you take on their behalf. The fact that you are looking out for their interests will have value to them.
And chances are they'll come back to you again – for your service, not for the price.
So not only will you have gained a loyal client, you'll earn a little incremental money for work that you're probably already doing for free.
That’s what I call successful selling.