How to Reel In First-Time Cruisers and the Lifetime of Vacations That Follow

Sponsored by MSC Cruises
by Kerry Tice
How to Reel In First-Time Cruisers and the Lifetime of Vacations That Follow

The MSC Seaside made its debut in Miami in December, 2017. Photo: MSC Cruises.

Despite multimillion-dollar ad campaigns capturing the glamorous and exotic allure of taking to the high seas, the fact remains that only 12 million people (close to four percent) of the population in the U.S. have taken a cruise.

That’s a wallop of a statistic, and at the same time, should be looked upon as an incredible opportunity to be seized by travel agents. 

It’s nothing new, but deserves a reminder now and again: Selling someone on their first cruise is critical, as once you’ve hooked them, odds are you will have them forever … or, at the very least, for the next several cruises they choose to take. Recent research from CLIA supports this notion, with 70 percent of cruise travelers saying they use a travel agent when booking a cruise vacation. 

There’s no doubt about it, hooking them is the tricky part. From seasickness worries and concerns over unfamiliarity, potential cruisers will always have reasons why they feel cruising is not for them. Convincing them otherwise is the travel agent’s job, but the good news is that it is a hurdle that can be overcome, with the right approach, say industry experts. 

Travel Market Report spoke to a number of travel advisors who have succeeded at reeling in first-time cruisers, and here is some of their advice: 

Learn the benefits of cruise travel and the objections
Being armed with this knowledge is your first important step. Find out what is keeping your client from cruising and then alleviate them of their anxieties. Oftentimes, there are some misconceptions in the mix, such as “There’s nothing I want to do on a cruise,” or “People are sitting around stuffing their faces.” It’s likely once you have listed the numerous activities onboard and on shore, and walked them through the countless ways they can stay active and eat healthy, that you’ve jumped your first hurdle. 

And then be sure to highlight one of the major benefits of cruising: the ability to travel to multiple locations in comfort without packing and unpacking. “The convenience factor of traveling from place to place at night while you’re sleeping adds to the quality of the time spent,” said Lisa de la Torre, an agent with Blue Stone Travel. “And you don’t feel like you need a vacation from your vacation [which sometimes happens with land tours].” 

Start them off slow
If you’re talking to a first-time cruiser, slow down, says Todd Elliott, an agent with Cruise Vacation Outlet in Orlando, Florida. “Too often we take for granted with our past clients and experienced cruisers that they understand our 'lingo.' Even the most basic questions like, 'What type of cabin do you want – inside, outside, balcony, or suite and what category?' can throw off a new-to-cruise customer.” Ask the questions that need to be asked, but follow up immediately with explanations like “the inside cabin has no window to the ocean.” 

Don’t forget to get the referrals
Cruisers are loyal to cruising and that makes them your greatest asset when it comes to finding more cruisers. More than half of cruisers (58 percent) believe a cruise is the best type of vacation, a perception that remains consistent. Seventy-three percent find high satisfaction with ocean cruises, with nine out of ten saying they probably or definitely will cruise again, according to CLIA. Numbers such as these testify to the satisfaction of cruising, which means cruisers themselves are who you need to target to expand your client base. 

And, you don’t need to wait until they return from their trip to get their help. As soon as you have taken a cruise deposit, ask them who they are going to tell about their vacation plans? Will they tell their parents, kids, neighbors, co-workers? If so, ask them if they’ll do you the favor of sending them your way if anyone else shows an interest. “Never miss an opportunity to sell!” said Elliott.

Save time and convert land-lovers to cruisers
The majority of agents we spoke with define new cruisers as those who have never cruised before, but they are not to be confused with those who have never traveled. In fact, many said they spend more time trying to convert land-lovers to cruisers than drawing in new clients altogether – and they don’t regret their decision. 

“I love getting someone who has never cruised before, because nine out of ten times, they will love it and then there are so many options to choose from once they have that cruise fever,” said de la Torre. “If you’ve never been on a cruise before and I match you to the right one, then there are so many more places I can send you again.” 

Tracy Whipple, an agent with Travel on a Dream in Deforest, Wisconsin, agrees with de la Torre. “Land travelers already have an idea of destinations they would like to visit, so getting them to consider a cruise is a bit easier to do. It’s a bigger challenge to get someone who hasn’t traveled much to go for a cruise as their first big trip.”

Sell the value, not the price
Cost-comparisons are highly recommended by agents who specialize in selling to first-time cruisers because value is one of the premier reasons cruises are so popular. The all-inclusivity and convenience of combining air, accommodations, food, drinks, transfers and entertainment in one package delivers a virtual homerun in terms of cost consolidation. That being said, cruise lines are not a one-size-fits-all product, notes Whipple, so finding the right itinerary and ship is integral to sealing the deal. 

“Learn as much as you can about the different cruise lines and ships," said Whipple. "There’s nothing worse than a client coming back and telling you why you were wrong in recommending a particular cruise to them. Remember that you are selling to your client, not yourself.” 

FROM THE SPONSOR: MSC Cruises is the world’s largest privately-owned cruise line, based in Switzerland, with a seafaring history that goes back over three centuries. With our cruises, you can choose from five continents, three oceans and a rich selection of cities, beaches, nature reserves, exotic cultures and landmarks. Our fleet currently consists of 15 spectacular ships sailing the world. In addition, MSC will have nine additional new ships come into service by 2026, an €11.6 billion ($13.5 billion USD) investment; along with a brand new island in the Bahamas, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, which will debut in November 2019. Our ships have won numerous awards, including MSC Seaside, which debuted in Miami in December 2017 and was named Cruise Critic’s “Best New Ship.” Visit and learn about the exciting growth and our award-winning ships.

Tip of the Day

I do think there are possibilities for traveler advisors to make money doing domestic trips. I charge a planning fee for my time and expertise, and then book commissionable hotels and activities that meet the client’s needs.

Terri Weeks

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