This story is part of TMR's first River Cruise Report Card for Travel Agents, which highlights the agent-policies of top river cruise companies in the market. To view Travel Market Report’s River Cruise Report Card for Travel Agents, or to print it out for handy reference, click here.
An investment in knowledge can reap limitless returns. Travel agents and suppliers would most likely agree this is true for every product they sell, but perhaps none more than the river cruise market. The value of an educated travel advisor is sometimes taken for granted by consumers, but for the agents themselves, becoming educated on this specialized product can pay off in spades. Commissions on the bundled amenities within a river cruise package can far outweigh the piecemeal components of land programs, making it easier for travel agents to earn more. But, first, they must harness the knowledge.
Turning a call into a sale is all about asking the right questions, according to Mary Murrin, North America Account Manager for Tauck River Cruising.
“One of the most surprising elements of our market research is how often even the most experienced agent neglects to adequately qualify the initial inquiry. We encourage our partners to ask the following: Who is calling? Why do they want to travel? What have they enjoyed in the past? And, what is their budget? Becoming your client’s sage advisor and advocate is invaluable.”
Offering insight beyond what a consumer can read online is what separates travel advisors from their counterparts and that knowledge is delivered best through supplier training programs.
“Nothing can do more for your business than showing that you’ve invested in it,” advised Terri Burke, managing director of Avalon Waterways, which like its competitors, hosts multiple online universities for agents to take part in. “As consumers, we look for attorneys and doctors with certifications and licenses … you really need to talk to your customers [and tell them you’re a specialist] because they respect that.”
While a 10-year veteran in Europe, Riviera River Cruises is new to the U.S. market, having just opened its office in the states earlier this year. Understanding the importance of educating travel agents, Riviera launched its first travel agent academy course in November. It includes an overview of the brand and updates on six new ships that are coming on line in 2017-18. Webinars are also scheduled to debut within the next few months. In response to travel agent demand, American Queen Steamboat Company also recently introduced its own agent training program called “Steamboat Academy,” a series of educational webinars that offer certification after the successful completion of each module.
For Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, the company’s approach to education is in detailed training, according to Kristian Anderson, senior vice president of global sales. “We really get into the specifics. We come out with a new program every 18 months so folks can refresh themselves on the new ships or offerings. The information is constantly changing and we want our travel partners to be aware of that every step of the way. Our primary mission is to make it relevant, user-friendly and up to date.” What’s more, once certified, the majority of suppliers, including Uniworld, will refer consumers on their website to agents who have completed their programs.
Differentiation is the focus of travel agent training efforts from Crystal River Cruises. Through webinars, module training and first-hand experience by travel agent partners, the company is intent on articulating what makes Crystal unique so travel agents can better qualify the sale. “It’s critical that we actually speak more to our differences so our travel partners can articulate that to their clients,” said Walter Littlejohn, vice president and managing director of Crystal River Cruises. “We have to make sure that the guest is well informed as to how we’re unique and special and how that is going to turn into a great vacation for them. We want them to know this is the experience that they wanted, not just what they thought they wanted.”
According to Yann Guezennec, Belmond’s worldwide sales and marketing director for trains and cruises, it all comes down to enthusiasm. “At Belmond we invite agents to presentations throughout the year. We also do regular webinars and invite agents to register on our intranet, which is a mine of the latest information and a really useful resource. For the most enthusiastic, we also organize group or individual educationals.”
For a supplier training directory listing, go to the Travel Market Report training tab.