You don't have to have sailed on a cruise line to sell it. But having experience on different cruise lines does make matching up clients with the right line easier. Cruise lines understand this and offer familiarization (FAM) trips and discounted rates (often called FAM rates) to incentivize advisors to experience their products. FAMs and special events – like ship namings and inaugural sailings – are also used to reward advisors for their loyalty.
New entrants to the travel advisor industry might assume that only the highest producing advisors have access to these FAM trips or get invitations to inaugural events. And while high-producing advisors do get invites, they're not the only ones.
In no particular order, here are the most common ways travel advisors can qualify for FAM rates, FAM trips and inaugural events.
Seminars at Sea
Seminars at Sea are a hybrid of a traditional FAM combined with a multi-day workshop. Most cruise lines offer at least one Seminar at Sea each year. Additionally, CLIA has been known to offer Seminars at Sea.
Seminars at Sea can be invite only, as with Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean, or first-come, first-serve as with Celebrity Cruises. Most cruise lines will list available Seminars at Sea in their calendar of events in their travel advisor portal. You can also ask your BDM if such an opportunity exists.
Several cruise lines reward advisor graduates of their educational programs with FAM rates or even free cruises.
"When you graduate from Celebrity Learning, we put you on a cruise," Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president of sales, the Americas, for Celebrity Cruises, told TMR.
Princess does the same, a spokesperson said. "After becoming a Commodore through our Princess Academy, travel advisors can earn one free graduation cruise as a culmination of the online learning."
Being a top graduate of a cruise line's educational program can also help qualify advisors for something like an inaugural event.
"It helps if the advisor has reached Commodore level via Princess Academy," a Princess spokesperson told TMR. "We do give preference to those who have taken the time to learn about and understand our product."
At Holland America, advisors must have completed the four core courses of the HAL Academy to even be eligible for any type of FAM opportunity.
By far the most successful way to receive an invitation for a FAM or inaugural event is to be an active partner with the cruise line.
Having a relationship with your business development manager and working with that person on a marketing plan or event, those are actions that tell a cruise line you're in it for more than just a free trip.
"We do not have a threshold of sales that are required to attend a FAM or an inaugural event," a spokesperson for Holland America told TMR. "They are available to any advisors that are working with our account managers to build a plan for growing their Holland America Line business."
Be a Top Producer
While you don't have to be a top producer to qualify for a FAM, it certainly doesn't hurt. But where top producers do tend to have an edge is with inaugural events.
For instance, at Celebrity Cruise lines, the top producers get automatic invitations to pre-inaugural events like ship namings. In most cases, these top producers are massive host agencies or franchise companies. These companies then decide who among their executives and members will go.
"If you're the top producer – we announce five a quarter in each region – you become an Iconic Advisor Club member and you automatically get an invite to the pre-inaugurals," Ritzenthaler said, adding that such a member, say Cruise Planners as an example, might get 10 invitations for the next pre-inaugural event. Same goes for the home-based account of the year or consortia account of the year.
Being a top producer within your own host agency or consortia, therefore, can help you qualify for one of those invitations, depending on how your host/franchise/consortia distributes them.
Aiming for being a top producer in your geographical region is another way of increasing your chances of getting an invitation to an inaugural event. According to Ritzenthaler, each regional sales manager gets a limited number of invites to distribute as well. These typically go to individual agencies (versus the larger host, franchise, consortia groups).
"When we have a pre-inaugural, we'll say that each region gets a certain number and then the regional director will say to his or her sales managers each gets this many [invites]," Ritzenthaler explained. "They will then go to their top producers, but a lot of the time, those top producers already got invited from all these other ways, so they go down to the next level."
Attend Industry Events
Industry events, whether it's your host, consortia or franchise's annual conference, association conferences (like CLIA's Cruise360) or publisher-led conferences (like Travel Market Place) are great for education and networking.
But they're also an opportunity to win FAM trips, with some cruise lines giving away multiple free cruises (we've even been at shows where every advisor in attendance got a free cruise).
Finding a FAM
Whether you're looking for a FAM rate or a FAM trip, most cruise lines will list upcoming opportunities on their advisor portals or send alerts via email.
For instance, Royal Caribbean sends emails to travel advisors with "friends and family" rates every week.
At Celebrity travel advisors can find FAM rates listed the advisor portal for close-in sailings the line wants to fill up, usually two to three weeks before departure.
"Open FAMs will be listed on OneSource.com and your Holland America Line account manager will also be sharing FAM opportunities, as they are releases," a HAL spokesperson told TMR. "To ensure you are seeing FAM dates, work with your account manager to create a sales strategy and express your interest in first-hand onboard experience, as part of that plan. All applicants will be approved by their sales manager to be confirmed on a FAM departure."