It’s been a seven-year-long voyage for Joe Jiffo, from the cruise side to Ensemble to land vacations and all-inclusive resorts, and now back again, as he takes on the role of MSC Cruises’ senior vice president of sales for North America. And while it may appear that he jumped ship because he knew Exclusive Group Travel was about to be acquired by The Mark Travel Corporation, that is not the case at all, he told TMR in an exclusive interview today.
“A lot of people assumed I knew, but it was a huge surprise; I found out about it an hour before they announced it publicly,” he said.
With MSC in a huge growth phase, however, Jiffo saw a huge opportunity to reach out to his contacts among land-based travel agents and bring a new generation of travel agents and their new-to-cruise customers into cruise vacations.
“By leaving the cruise industry to the land and consortia side I really expanded my portfolio of agents. It’s a whole new world of travel agents on the land side—agents who strictly do land, or who just dabble in cruise, and that’s where I see a real opportunity for MSC,” he said. “The land side is so different—it’s competitive, but competitive in a different nature, competing with the online guys, and with margins that are not as big. And especially in the independent contracting world, all these new agents are coming into the business and not really sure what they want to specialize in. Maybe they specialize in land but they have a customer who’s interested in cruise—that’s what I hope to capture by giving them the time they deserve, by really treating everyone as equals, by showing them all the same respect and giving them the attention and the training they need.”
Jiffo credits his success at Exclusive Group Travel with “acting like a BDM and establishing personal relationships,” and that’s the path he will follow when he officially begins on April 11. His agenda starts with “reestablishing some old relationships from my cruise days,” he said. “For me it will not be that different. The key is the face-to-face contacts and relationships—that’s where my success was on the land side, really going back to old-school sales where you make commitments with a handshake and follow up in person.”
Expect to see him reaching out to the travel agency community with “opportunities to experience the product, and training so agents understand who MSC is and what we do, the dining we offer and the technology behind us.” With two new ships ready to roll out, “we’re certainly going to spread the word by being out in the industry and being very visible with agents,” he promised.