Celebrity Chief: 'We'd Be Dumb' Not to Direct Market
Celebrity Chief: 'We'd Be Dumb' Not to Direct Market

Celebrity Chief: 'We'd Be Dumb' Not to Direct Market

Dan Hanrahan

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.

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Suraj    August 13, 2010    8:46 PM
There we go again. Another faux MBA exec who has probably never sold a cruise in his life. How does he know we do not follow up? We did not know about direct offers to the passengers on board for a while. However, since he does have to earn his big bucks, how about adding 'call your travel agent'. That way they have the option at least or you, like other suppliers, do not believe in that that any more? Incidentally, we change Doctors, lawyers, financial advisors for the same reason - wrong advice or a bad attitude which leads to bad service. And I strongly disagree with you- those are OUR clients - until I lose them because of bad service or mistake. Just like they are not your clients as I will try and upgrade them to Crystal after a while. But hey cruiselines, keep nickel and diming passengers and then we will not to worry about marketing cruises.

JESS    August 13, 2010    1:24 PM
Yet ANOTHER reason why Celebrity is not our partner! Someday all travel suppliers will push retail travel agents out of the distribution channel. Who is he to say that agents do not follow up with their clients? Where did his genius come from? This used to be a industry where you could trust your vendors, not any more! If any travel agent 100% trust Celebrity, and others that market direct to the client you have sent them, then they are foolish. If Celebrity, et al, gets the client from a travel agent, then markets direct, they are no more than common thieves. Marketing material can simply leave off the contact info of the cruiseline and say see your travel agent. That is not rocket science. Shame on Hanrahan! HE is not a travel agents friend! I no longer respect him or Celebrity. Market to our clients, we cut you off! I hope you have a big reservations staff to answer all questions.

Aram    August 13, 2010    1:19 PM
As an agent that specializes in cruise marketing, I understand Don's concernes about retaining past passengers. However, I hope that such messages sent to clients are not to ones that did not have the pleasant experience they expected on their cruise. No matter what cruise line, things do happen sometime, that may not even be the cruise line's fault, but the passenger still blames them. On such occassions, it would be best to leave promotions in the agent's hands. Thinking on the positive side: How about sending the booking agent an advance copy to which they can add their own copy, as a trailer, at the bottom of the Celebrity message? This at least gives them an opportunity to do their job (just in case they might not have already done), or, gives them a second opportunity to get their message across.

Ann Marie    August 13, 2010    12:35 PM
Keep in mind that travel agents get paid the lowest for cruise bookings. With all their non commissionable fees it is sometimes not worth it. Also, the cruise line lets the customer keep calling back to see if the fare is lower and gives it to them with no penalty. This continually lowers the agents commission. If an agency commission was protected, maybe they would work harder to get the customers on another cruise.

Andrea    August 13, 2010    10:44 AM
As a veteran Travel Specialist, I want to disagree with Mr.Hanrahan. Going after my clients with his marketing-I got them from you attitude only makes me want to sell anothers tour or cruise. I work very hard to please my clients and keep them and should not have to compete with his cruise line.

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