The onboard booking teams of most cruise lines are not a force to be feared by agents, but rather a sales tool that can profit travel sellers.
But that doesn’t mean agents shouldn’t take precautions to make sure they get credit for such bookings. Arming clients with a letter granting the agent control of the booking is one way to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.
While most cruise lines do notify agents about bookings made onboard by their clients, some travel sellers express trepidation about clients booking future cruises while onboard.
Pros and cons
“It’s really hard to decide which side of the fence to be on,” Nancy Peklo-Nosal said of the practice of encouraging passengers to book future sailings while onboard. Peklo-Nosal is president of Design Travel, a MAST agency in Arlington Heights, Ill.
“Should I let the cruise line book their next cruise and hope the clients come back and tell us they’ve done so? Or more, important, shall I hope the cruise lines send us the new booking confirmations?
“We’re at the mercy of both parties at that juncture.”
Ultimately, onboard bookings are good for travel agents, said Cindy Clifford, of Gotta Go Cruises, a Vacation.com agency in Riverhead, N.Y.
"It's a case of opportune timing - while clients are in the mood to spend money on something that is making them very happy, rather than waiting until they get back to the reality mindset where they're stressing over every dollar.
"When we first got in the business, the thinking was that you called a client the minute they got home to encourage them to think about going again while they were still basking in the afterglow. This trumps that."
Education overcomes fear
Education is the key to mitigating nervousness about shipboard sales pitches to their clients, said Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, owner of Journeys by Steve in Springfield, Mo. “I don’t think agents should be afraid so much as educated.”
That education should encompass the incentives clients receive for booking onboard ship (usually onboard credits and/or reduced rates), as well as what clients need to do to ensure that you – their travel professional – stays in control of the booking.
“I do what I can to educate the client on the future cruise sales options to prepare them for what they may be told by the onboard representative.”
Cousino also arms his clients with a letter to give to the onboard sales rep during the booking or deposit process. The form letter contains the client’s information, as well as his agency’s information, and is accompanied by an agency business card.
Virginia-based Cruises Inc. agent John Gawne does something similar with his clients. “I send a flyer to the client with my personalized luggage tags encouraging them to book onboard,” he said.
The flyer, which can be given to the onboard rep, provides his agency’s information, so there’s no question about who gets credit for the booking.
Forms often not needed
Safe is better than sorry, but with most cruise lines travel agents shouldn’t need to give clients such forms.
Most lines either provide direct notification to the agent/agency of shipboard bookings or make that information available somewhere on their agent booking portal.
Some cruise lines are faster than others, however.
“Most of the time, clients tell me before get a confirmation from the cruise line,” Peklo-Nosal said.
Requires ‘scavenger hunt’
Clifford agreed. “We find that there are still onboard bookings that don’t get to us without a scavenger hunt,” she said.
Some lines are known for the timeliness of their notices.
“I had a client book a future cruise credit onboard, and Princess sent me an email with the notification while the client was still onboard,” Gawne told Travel Market Report.
Vigilance required in some cases
At least one cruise line has a reputation for treating onboard bookings as direct bookings, thereby cutting agents out of the picture.
Cousino said that in the rare instances when he books a cruise line known for this, he tells the clients that if they book onboard they should let him know as soon as they return.
Clifford said she is leery of certain companies, namely Disney Cruise Line. “Regarding any fear of having our clients stolen, that’s a resounding ‘yes’ where Disney is concerned.
“I’d be shocked if we’re the only agency who feels that booking our clients (on a Disney cruise) is akin to sending them on a farewell cruise. Farewell to us,” Clifford said.
(Disney Cruise Line told Travel Market Report that when an agency client books onboard, a booking confirmation is automatically sent to the agent on file and the agent receives credit for the future booking.)
Don’t dictate to clients
Agents should never tell clients not to book onboard, Peklo-Nosal said. “We can’t tell the client what to do, especially if they’ve enjoyed all aspects of the cruise they’re currently on.
“If you’ve serviced your client very well and built a strong relationship with them there shouldn’t be anything to be concerned about.”
Next time: A detailed look at the onboard booking programs of 13 major cruise lines.