While keeping pace with an endless roll-out of ships, staterooms, dining options and destinations may be challenging, savvy specialists know that today’s cruise sale is tomorrow’s repeat booking – or better yet – group referral.
In fact, according to the Cruise Line International Association’s (CLIA) 2018 Cruise Travel Report, cruisers are twice as likely as non-cruisers to use a travel agent when booking a vacation – and cruisers who did use an agent are 97 per cent “very likely or likely” to book again.
But with so much to master in the way of innovative ocean- and river-based experiences, cruise specialists can also get caught up in the age-old sales grind of quantity over quality, and risk missing some golden opportunities along the way. We turned to a few of Canada’s top cruise specialists for some tips on selling – and upselling – more effectively.
Here’s what you should keep in mind:
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It’s easy to understand why being an expert on all things cruise is a must when pairing a client with the perfect voyage: CLIA’s report found that in general, 85 to 87 per cent of satisfied cruisers will “very likely” book a cruise again for their next vacation.
With that in mind, Loretta Darcy, a senior travel designer for Tully Luxury Travel, says managing expectations is equally as important when it comes to ensuring a client comes home satisfied.
“The biggest risk lies in the unexpected,” she says. “It’s important to be honest, and eliminate any potential surprises.”
Darcy believes advisors are especially invaluable to clients who are new to cruising, as they’re often unsure of what to expect. In such cases, she suggests matching their preferred travel style (i.e. luxury, budget-friendly, food-focused, cultural) to a cruise of similar calibre. This not only increases the chance of a satisfied customer and a repeat booking, it’s also an easy way to develop trust.
“If someone is used to staying at the Ritz but they’re asking about a large scale cruise line with huge buffet lines – well that’s an opportunity," she says.
Christa Robert, owner of Cruise World, adds that the more you can prepare a client for the good and potentially not-so-good elements of their upcoming experience, the happier you’ll both be with the outcome.
Seemingly small things, like balcony classifications on ocean lines and the distance between the port to a sightseeing spot for river cruisers are the sort of devilish details worth sharing pre-sale, says Robert
“A balcony isn’t always necessarily a balcony – some are just walled windows with bars,” she says, adding that when it comes to land excursions, “sometimes it’s right in the city, sometimes it’s a whole bus trip. You have to really know everything.”
For those who find the idea of memorizing so many minute details rather dizzying, Darcy suggests regularly sharing and trading news, experiences and client feedback with your agency team, perhaps as a post-trip download.
Use your instincts
Popular opinion may position river cruising for mature, affluent, culturally-focused travellers and ocean lines as a high-key catch-all for choice-hungry, fun-loving adventurers, but that’s no reason not to challenge the status quo.
After all, although ocean lines tend to tout their onboard bells and whistles as the main attraction, roller coasters and celebrity chefs are not the only reason clients choose to cruise. CLIA’s report states that 60 per cent of cruisers considered their destination to be a factor in their vacation choice, whereas only 17 per cent were influenced by the ship itself.
Sometimes, Darcy says, giving the client what they want may mean looking past misconceptions on cruising styles, like traditionally quiet and low-key river cruises, which she believes aren’t necessarily for the 45-plus crowd.
“They’re not just attracting older guests these days,” shares the specialist with 34 years of experience selling cruises. Indeed, with their frequent city stops, flexible itineraries and increasingly active tours and excursions, river cruising can also be a great multigenerational option. “There’s so much going on now, from yoga, workshops, bike rentals – there really is something for everyone.”
Other times, adds Robert, helping a client get what they want means sensing when they’re ready for a new experience – and recommending a natural next step.
“River cruising can appeal to the same people who like luxury ocean liners, who are at the age where they realize they’re not going to take it with them,” the agency owner says. “They want high-end service and upscale cabins, but they also want diversity; something different.”
Of course, Darcy admits, there are also moments when an advisor may need to lead a client away from what they think they want.
“I know some clients that, if they wanted to be on a ship with 100 guests, they wouldn’t be happy,” she states. “And neither would those 100 guests.”
Don’t be afraid to sell outside the lines
As cruise lines continue to evolve their new themed itineraries, niche excursions, suite categories and land-based stays, there are countless ways to get creative when it comes upselling. As CLIA discovered, 57 per cent of cruisers extend their vacations in port cities – a common choice that represents a lucrative opportunity for advisors who aren’t afraid to own their value.
And while encouraging a client to book their excursions through you – as opposed to the cruise line once on board – may seem like an obvious tip, Robert says arranging and customizing a pre- or post stay can also result in valuable commissions.
What’s more, piecing together a personalized land-based stay including car rentals, airport transfers, hotels and private tours is a natural way to introduce service fees, Darcy adds, because cruisers are usually used to having everything take care of, and aren’t likely to question the value of good service.
“For some guests, they don’t want to think about anything,” she says. “They want to be met at the airport and taken to the hotel… have their hands held a little.”
On the subject of upselling, Darcy advises specialists pay close attention to the client’s desires, then make suggestions based on their interests – and think big.
“If they really like fine wine, maybe suggest a river cruise line that offers a nice beverage package, or interesting wine pairings or tours."
Likewise, foodies may be willing to pay more for a culinary upgrade, such as a spot at a chef’s table, while multigenerational families are a chance to take a step up in room category.
Many ocean lines offer guests concierge level suites and staterooms, with private dining rooms and private pools. This provides a high-end experience for members of the family who like things to be upscale, but allows the younger travellers to experience a full range of activities elsewhere on the ship. This, according to Darcy, is a good example of not just upselling toward a higher revenue, but of curating a more satisfying customer experience overall.
“It’s not even so much upselling,” Darcy reasons, “as it is making clients aware of what their options are. It’s all about what’s important to them.”
In the end, Darcy and Robert agree selling to cruisers – be they first-timers or lifers – all comes down to trust: If you build it, they will come.