Helping travel sellers better understand the value proposition of a luxury cruise and why they don’t need to be afraid of the price point are top priorities for Ellen Bettridge, Silversea Cruises’ new president of the Americas.
As immediate past vice president of the American Express U.S. Retail Travel Network, Bettridge brings a deep understanding of the needs of travel agents to the job.
Travel Market Report caught up with Bettridge less than two months into her new position to discuss her plans for Silversea, how her background will help the line’s travel agent partners and why she decided to transition from travel seller to supplier.
Are enough travel agents selling luxury cruises?
Bettridge: I think there’s an opportunity to help agencies feel more comfortable in selling a luxury product.
Some agents are still anxious about selling a product that is at the price range it is. They need to understand what the value is that they’re actually getting for their customer. They don’t need to be scared.
How do we demystify selling luxury?
They need to understand not to sell from their own pocketbook, but to sell what’s best for their customer. Sometimes they think, ‘Wow, that’s such a high price. I could never afford that.’ But it’s about how do you make that experience for your customer so amazing they want to continue to come back to you.
What advice would you give agents who are nervous about selling luxury cruises?
Bettridge: They need to understand it. We at Silversea, and some of the others, can do a better job of explaining it so they understand what’s included in this package – and how much commission they make on the total sale versus on just parts of the sale.
They need to take the time to understand what the product is and how to best position it. I intend to work with our sales team to do some of that training in the field.
How will your experience as the leader of a travel agency group influence your role at Silversea?
Bettridge: I have a good understanding of what the needs of an agent are and how we can best position things to help them sell our product even easier.
My first job at American Express was as a frontline travel counselor, so I understand that there is so much information being pushed at them all the time. How Silversea can make it easier for them to book our product is key.
What are your priorities for your first year at Silversea?
Bettridge: Right now, I need to build my team, to gain my strength internally as well as externally.
Also, getting to know my best customers and how I can support them. And really understanding what the opportunities are with other customers who might not be selling Silversea the way they could be.
Is there anything you'd like to see change with cruise suppliers, now that you can be a force for change through your role at Silversea?
Bettridge: I don’t have anything specific that I feel needs to dramatically change. The key is to continue to be agency friendly, to support agents with their desire to learn and to better understand our products, and to continue to give opportunities for agencies to experience our product.
What about taking the lead on the issue of commissions in the cruise industry at large?
Bettridge: When I look at the policies of Silversea, I feel as though they are already very flexible and very supportive of travel agencies. Does that mean I want to influence others? I don’t know that that’s really my point to say.
What was it like switching from the travel agency side of the equation to the supplier side?
Bettridge: It was a big decision to leave American Express where I was very happy. I absolutely loved what I was doing and loved working with the agencies.
But this was an opportunity to have a new challenge to work with this luxury brand and help it to continue to grow and continue to be a market leader. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Silversea is a particularly agent-friendly cruise line, did that make the decision easier?
Bettridge: It definitely made it easier, knowing some of the policies they already had in place.