At a recent CLIA press event, Travel Market Report sat down with Celebrity president and CEO Dan Hanrahan for a frank discussion of the line’s direct marketing to travel agencies’ past clients.
While Hanrahan didn’t make a direct connection between direct marketing and frustration, he did admit to feeling frustration that many travel sellers are not proactive enough with their clients.
“I find it frustrating when agents don’t follow up with clients who just got off a cruise,” Hanrahan said. “Those clients are ripe for another cruise. If an agent isn’t following up with a client right after they’ve returned from a cruise, that agent is missing a huge opportunity.”
Because a previous cruiser is likely to cruise again, Celebrity is always going to send these clients direct offers to return on another cruise, Hanrahan told TMR.
“We’d be dumb if we weren’t going out to them. Agents should also be going out to them.”
The two messages combined have a better chance of catching the attention of the client, increasing the likelihood of another booking. Therefore, agents should be viewing Celebrity’s direct efforts as helpful, Hanrahan added.
Directing Clients Online
Hanrahan also spoke to why Celebrity uses its direct marketing to steer clients online.
According to Hanrahan, the money Celebrity would have to spend to do a TV or print ad campaign goes much further online. The cruise line can give prospective clients and repeat clients more information on its Web site than it can anywhere else.
“Some agents misinterpret that as trying to get direct bookings,” he said. But, he added, that is not the case. Ninety percent of Celebrity’s bookings come through travel agents.
Furthermore, Celebrity tracks where clients go after visiting Celebrity’s Web site. The two main categories of the Web site they visit are another cruise line and agency Web sites.
“Something the agents are doing is working,” he pointed out.
Sales is Work
When asked why Celebrity can’t personalize the call to action on the direct e-mails the cruise line sends to past passengers, Hanrahan said it would take a lot of work on Celebrity’s part to make that possible. And while he did say it was something that could be looked into, he expressed hesitation.
Celebrity doesn’t want to give clients the idea that they have to book with the same agent, he said. As far as Celebrity is concerned, just because an agent booked a passenger doesn’t mean the agency “owns” the client, Hanrahan said. There may be a reason the client doesn’t want to book with the same agent, he suggested.
Furthermore, Hanrahan told TMR, sometimes he interprets agents’ complaints about issues like direct marketing as agents wanting Celebrity to do their selling for them.
“Sometimes I feel like agents are telling us they don’t want to do the work and they want us to do the work for them,” he admitted.
“Agents should be doing everything they can to keep clients from going to somebody else. Really good agents are saying ‘it’s my job to keep my clients.’”
Agents should be picking up the phone and calling clients when they get back from a cruise; they should be piggy-backing an e-mail onto the direct offer Celebrity will be sending.
“It makes strong business sense [for Celebrity] to have a good agency distribution channel. But we need agents to execute [their jobs] well.”
Hanrahan admitted to TMR that he sometimes calls agencies, not as himself, to ask about booking a cruise.
“There’s a huge disparity in the service I get. The good ones really stand out.”
And service he said, is much more important than ever. The Internet has taught consumers to be shoppers, but really good service takes shopping out of the equation and makes loyal customers.
“People don’t change their doctor, their lawyer, their financial advisor… they shouldn’t be changing their travel agent either.”
Hanrahan suggested agents visit Celebrity’s agent Web site, Cruising Power, and use the various collateral tools to help them sell better.