After spending 20 years in the travel industry, Holly Sievers is ready to take on a new challenge at the starting line of MSC’s $10.2 billion expansion. She took some time to talk with TMR about her plans and the future of the trade.
What are your plans for working with agents, particularly home-based agents?
Our main goal is to help home-based agents grow their business with MSC Cruises. I will be working with the Host Agencies executive teams to negotiate healthy contracts and agent promotions, as well as coordinate the marketing and advertising efforts at the Host’s corporate level. All efforts will be executed to support the home-based agents, where we will also offer educational support via trainings, ship inspections, in-person visits and MSC Academy.
In addition, I will be working very closely with our local Business Development Manager’s (BDM) and assisting with training and educational sessions throughout major markets. We recognize that the Host Agents are individual owners and drivers of their business, and we will continue to support them on a local level and give revenue recognition to both them and the local BDM.
What is the feeling like, joining the team at MSC as the line is in the midst of its giant expansion?
I am incredibly excited to be joining MSC Cruises at such a pivotal time in the company’s growth. With a nearly $10 billion investment in place, and a plan to introduce 10 more new ships to the market by 2026, there will be no slowing down over the next several years, and 2017 has already been a banner year for the company. We have introduced the new MSC Meraviglia, christened in June, and will continue rapid growth this year with MSC Seaside arriving to Miami in December. This incredible growth presents such an exciting opportunity for our agents to grow their business with MSC Cruises, and I’m eager to work with our dedicated partners to make this coming year the most mutually profitable yet.
Is there anything you think a lot of travel agents overlook when trying to build their business?
For any agent in the business, it is important to build strong relationships with the suppliers that will be there for both them and their clients. Select preferred suppliers that truly support, value and recognize the importance of partnering with travel agents, whether through bonus commissions and agency loyalty programs or providing training and marketing support. Both the supplier and the agent benefit and grow their business from a strong partnership.
Beyond supplier relations, it’s important for agents to recognize the value of leveraging a niche market. Whether specializing in weddings, family travel or retirees, travel agents can benefit from growing within a specialty rather than spreading themselves too thin and trying to sell it all. Consumers naturally favor recommendations from experts, and by positioning themselves as a specialist, agents can effectively drive new business opportunities.
You’ve spent 20 years in the travel industry, with Exclusive Group and Mark Travel, among others. What changes have you see in the trade side since you started?
The travel industry has changed dramatically over the past two decades, especially on the trade front. The implementation of technology into travel has inspired an evolution that has significantly impacted how travel agents work with their customers, and how suppliers work with agents. With so much information so easily accessible, suppliers have a greater opportunity to work directly with travel agents to educate them, listen to their needs and help them grow their business.
Although technology has driven an era of do-it-yourself-travel, agents have a unique opportunity to merchandise their value to customers on digital communication platforms and share tailored recommendations or insider benefits. This is especially relevant in cruising, where a guest might need more insight into onboard features, excursions, and destinations to fit their specific needs.