Your car lease is up and it’s time to start shopping for a new one. When it comes to advice, will you listen to the friend who read a little about car reviews online or the one who has owned the model you are interested in buying?
The answer seems simple enough and the logic can be applied to almost any major purchase decision, which is why travel agents who specialize in selling cruises will tell you that ship inspections can be the difference between closing the sale or no sale at all.
Jennifer Walker, CTC, owner of Jennifer Walker Travel in Washington, Illinois, poses this question: “Would you rather sail on a ship that your travel agent has personally been on and can vouch that it will be a great fit for your family or on a ship that the agent ‘thinks’ is a good fit based on information the agent is able to glean from online training tools and marketing resources that may or may not provide the exact information the client is wanting in order to make an informed decision?”
While that’s a whole lot to take in, Walker is not alone among travel agents who wholeheartedly feel ship inspections are a necessity in order to properly match a client with the right ship. What’s more, an inspection can go so far as to also dispel concerns or pre-conceived notions about a particular sailing. Tracy Whipple, owner of Travel On A Dream, explains: “I was completely against cruising on a particular ship because its size was intimidating. I did a ship inspection and had a totally different opinion. I actually wound up setting up an agency group as a result of the ship inspection.”
So now that we’ve established the importance of ship inspections, how should travel agents maximize these opportunities to grow their business and that of their agency?
The three C’s
According to Greg Phillips, an excellent ship inspection comes down to what he calls “The Three C’s” – Cabins, Cuisine and Crew. Phillips advises fellow agents to gain as much information about these three categories in the limited amount of time they have available. “Take pictures to remind you of things, keep audio notes on your smart phone, and wear your jogging shoes because you’re going to be marching!”
Seeing as many staterooms as possible is integral to an excellent ship inspection, according to Whipple, who adds that experiencing the food as if you were a guest is her second most important thing to do. “Ship inspections give you a better understanding of the size and layout of a cruise ship so you are better able to sell it.”
Feedback is expected
When it comes to ship inspections, sharing is caring. In other words, plan to spread the wealth of information you have gathered, not only with your clients but also with your fellow agents, so everyone can benefit from what your eyes have seen and ears have heard. And, don’t discount the personal benefits that repetition can hold.
“Anyone from our office who gets on a cruise ship – personal cruise, fam trip, hosted group, or ship inspection – is expected to speak on that experience at the next team meeting,” said Phillips. “Teaching and sharing is an invaluable part of learning. Preparing a five-minute presentation, that almost always goes 15-plus minutes, will reinforce for themselves what they learned.”
Brett Jones, sales manager at Sea Land Air Travel, Inc., in Paw Paw, Michigan, agrees that there is no substitute for first-hand feedback. “A personal experience to see, touch, taste, and feel beats reading about it online or in a brochure any day.”
And even if multiple agents attended the same inspection, Whipple notes that it is still important to share your observations, because: “There might be something that you noticed that another agent did not. Take general notes, but not a pros-and-cons list, because a con to you could be a pro to a potential client. I would also recommend making a list of 3-5 clients that you think would be a good match for each ship you inspect and why, and even those that are not a good match. Not only will this give you a good idea of who to market to, it will also help when another potential client comes around, because you can compare them to your existing clients and their likes and dislikes to help you find the right cruise.”
Show them what they’re missing
Taking video and pictures are a huge component of a ship inspection. Phillips breaks down his strategy into two parts. “First, I take pictures of things I want to remember specifically. A picture can jog your memory later when you sit back and digest everything. The second is to take pictures of people having fun. That’s what you want to show your clients … not a picture of a bed. Last I checked, all of the staterooms had beds in them!
For video, the same mantra applies, according to Phillips. “I’ve watched my share of ship videos online and I’m generally bored within 15 seconds, if the all the video does is capture this slide or that stateroom. Show me a video of people enjoying the first hours of a dream vacation instead!”
Sharing what you’ve witnessed and experienced on a ship inspection, on social media can also pay off in spades. While Walker admits she is no video expert, sometimes even the smallest of efforts can generate a worthwhile response. She said: “On my recent national parks tour, I posted a video of a grizzly bear. That video got more comments than most of my pictures did. I know it’s a great tool for capturing the interests of potential clients.”
Sell what you know
It’s the last piece of advice, but likely the most critical to closing a sale: Sell what you know. The moment you tell a client you were onboard a ship they asked about recently is the moment you become an expert in their eyes. Selling what you are most familiar with will earn your clients’ trust. What’s more, becoming more knowledgeable will bolster your confidence and translate to increased sales.
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 MSC cruises, you’ll experience international cuisine, cultural learning opportunities, exotic destinations and more. Our fleet currently consists of 15 spectacular ships sailing the world. In addition, MSC will have nine additional new ships to 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 msccruises.com and learn about the exciting growth and our award-winning ships.