Out-of-the-box thinking is great, but sticking to basic sales tactics can be an equally successful strategy for travel advisors, said a panel of cruise line executives at Travel Market Report's Travel Market Place West conference, held in Vancouver earlier this month.
Executives also addressed advisors concerns that getting in touch with suppliers is getting more difficult, and offered advice on how to convert high-ticket land clients into cruisers.
Don't Forget the Basics
"This entire business, both on our side as well as with your clients, is about relationships," said Derek Lloyd, vice president, sales, North America for Norwegian Cruise Line. "Your clients are not just thinking about travel during the couple of weeks that you're talking to them about their current trip. They're thinking about travel year-round and you've got to make sure you are a part of that conversation. That you are not just the person that's taking the booking, but that you are their source of everything related to travel."
Celebrity Cruises' National Director of Market Sales for Canada, Allan Brooks also brought it back to some of the most basic sales tactics.
"I think staying engaged is really important," he said, echoing Lloyd, comparing travel planning to maintaining a regular schedule with your doctors. "When you have a dentist appointment, you schedule the next one right there. It's important to have that plan when you're meeting with your clients. Set up a routine, have an agenda, and at the end of that agenda is what you're going to follow up on. Get that commitment from your client before they walk out the door, before they hang up the phone. Giving them that expectation that you are going to contact them again in this time frame is invaluable."
Your Clients Are Not You
Sandra Gardiner, director of sales for Canada at AmaWaterways, emphasized another tried-and-true piece of advice: don't mistake your own budget for your clients.
"One of the biggest components of being a really successful advisor is not selling from your own pocket," she said. Just because you might not be able – or willing – to spend $25,000 on a vacation doesn't mean your clients won't either.
"People want to travel right now and they want to go longer," she said. Ask for the sale.
Use Your Cruise Line Contacts
During the show, TMR heard from several travel advisors that they'd been having trouble staying in touch with their cruise line contacts. With so much turnover during the past few years, they weren't sure who they were supposed to call or even when they should be reaching out and when not to.
Seabourn's director of national accounts, North America, Shane Buksh, told the audience he related.
"Half of those offices aren't there anymore," he said referring to Canadian storefronts that closed during the COVID-19 shutdown. "But the agents are still there and we don't know where they are… Just as hard as it is for you to find where we are, it's just as difficult for us to find out who you are."
He recommended that advisors use whatever means of communication they can find, whether that's Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram.
Brooks agreed, saying advisors shouldn't be afraid to reach out whether they're a small one-person agency or a multi-location agency.
"We wouldn't have field sales teams if they weren't going to be utilized. It's ok to reach out. We're here to help you grow, no matter what size you are now and where you plan on being down the road. We have the resources to support you, whether that's content or coop dollars or whatever it needs to be. That’s what we're here for."
NCL's Lloyd also agreed, but recommended advisors be selective about when to reach out.
"All of us have spent millions of dollars in developing tools, in developing resources that gives you virtually everything at your fingertips. What you can really do is when you're reaching out to your sales representative, reach out with a positive, proactive sales opportunity. Make sure that it it's a terms and conditions or procedural thing, that you look at the resources that we've put there, so that it's more about our teams helping your build business."
All four executives also offered advice on converting land clients to cruising.
Brooks suggested advisors break down the costs of vacationing by land versus cruising.
"If you look at what you're getting on a cruise, you unpack once, all your meals, the entertainment. I don't think there's any comparison," he said.
Lloyd told advisors to start with the similarities, then explain how it's better.
"You don't want to make it seem too different initially. Make it seem like a smaller leap."
Buksh emphasized matching clients with the right cruise line the first time.
"If someone has a bad experience because they're on the wrong ship, they're off cruising forever."