Cruise line sales executives talk business development, cruise news and demystification

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Commercial executives from Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line discussed how travel advisors can grow their business, attract new cruise customers and address cruise misconceptions during a panel at the inaugural New York Travel & Adventure Show.

Moderated by Charles Sylvia, vice president of industry and commercial relations at CLIA, the leaders offered a wide range of practical advice ranging from layering their communications and marketing plans to finding affinity groups within their local communities and their personal networks on the best ways to deal with tariff barriers.

Building your business
Being consistent with communications, layering your marketing and leveraging national cruise line marketing are the best ways for cruise-selling travel advisors to penetrate their local markets and grow their business, panelists said.

“There’s no magic equation,” said Lisa Falango, sales manager, Northeast Region, Royal Caribbean International, of growing an agency’s business. “It’s all about consistency and communication…the accounts that are most successful are those that have been in touch with their existing customers throughout the pandemic.”

Corey Wallace, national accounts manager for Celebrity Cruises, agreed. “There’s an old saying that ‘people don’t care what you know until they know how much you care’.”

Be sure to follow people after their cruise to ask them how their trip was. Call them to wish them a happy birthday or a happy birthday.

“At that point, they realize they’re not just a customer. They feel more connected and more supported and that helps take that relationship to the next level,” he added.

Both Falango and Wallace spoke about the need for multiple forms of communication, which Wallace called “layered marketing.”

“Make sure you share your stories on social media, have ads in the local newspaper, be a member of the local chamber of commerce and be visible in the community, because the more people see you, the more you’re there, the more your name resonates with them. They may not be booking with your today, but you’re planting the seeds of tomorrow,” Wallace said.

Falango agreed that social media is particularly important. “Being visible on social media is probably one of the most important factors anyone can use to gain exposure and build a business,” she said. “Most people like to see your story, like to know where you’ve been and what you’ve done, and seeing you like traveling to different places and on different cruises.”

Derek Lloyd, vice president of commercial sales at Norwegian Cruise Line, added that travel advisors should also look for ways to leverage the “millions and millions” of advertising dollars that cruise lines spend to amplify these messages of brand and associate with brands.

“Whatever the slogan, you should use the same in your marketing because you can amplify that message. You can associate with that brand and that’s how you get the business for yourself,” he said.

Not sure what local ad campaigns are for your market? Talk to your sales manager from the different cruise lines and find out how they advertise in each market and what you need to do to jump on the message, he added.

Approach to the new cruise market
A lucrative market for cruise passengers, and for travel advisors, these are people who have never sailed before. But how do you find them, CLIA’s Sylvia asked the panel.

Lloyd of NCL advised leveraging your current customer database. “Who do you have in there that just hasn’t done it yet and ask them why. Do you have families who want to travel together? Who makes Mexican resorts? Who goes to the Caribbean? Who does bus tours in Europe.

Falango echoed Lloyd. “Work your database by who hasn’t navigated. Who are some of your fun and sunny vacations? Maybe some of your Disney customers have grown up a bit and are looking for something different.

Families, in particular, are a good source, Lloyd said. Find grandparents who want to travel with their whole family. “All of a sudden you have a group of 10 or 12 cabins half of whom have never cruised before…and we know that once we get them they will come back.”

Affinity groups are another great source of new cruise customers, the panel said. With affinity groups like wine lovers, church groups, knitters, golfers and the like, you can hook people up with the group and cruising is secondary.

“People will travel with like-minded people,” Falango said. “If you create some kind of group or trip with a common interest, you will attract new travelers that way.”

“The beauty of it is that it helps you grow your business portfolio,” Wallace added. “Because now they’ve worked with you through the group leader and they’ve gotten to know you and seen what you’re capable of. Now maybe they want to do a family reunion cruise.

Busting the Myths
Panelists also took the time to bust a few myths about their brands, giving advisors talking points if they heard any of these objections from potential customers.

For Royal Caribbean, Falango said, it’s the belief of some that their ships are too big and too scheduled.

“Our ships are designed so that there are intimate areas all over the ship depending on what you want to do, whether it’s for the week or that day,” she said, describing the concept. of neighborhood on Oasis-class ships.

She recommended that advisers show affected customers the layout of the ship and point out all the different spaces. “Once you see the layout of the ship, you lose that feeling that it’s overwhelming and too big,” she added. “Yes, we have the biggest ships, but we also have a lot to offer in an intimate environment.”

Regarding overtaking, Falango said, “You can completely customize your cruise experience for whatever you want it to be. You don’t have to eat at 6 or 7 o’clock. Maybe one night you want to eat at 5:30 p.m. and the next day you don’t want to eat until 8 p.m. You design your experience around what you and your family or friends are looking to do.

Celebrity’s Wallace said the objection he hears the most is that Celebrity is too expensive. “We are more expensive than contemporary brands and we make no apologies for that,” he said. “But amenities, such as tips, drinks package, Wi-Fi, those are things they’re going to have with us all the time and those are built into the price.”

He said when you add the prices for these amenities to the rates charged by other cruise lines, “you will find that our prices are not significantly higher than the others.”

Wallace also pointed out that the onboard experiences that Celebrity invests in — the experiences people pay the most for — are “the things that people are going to enjoy every day, like food and service.” Unlike things like zip lines and roller coasters, cruisers may only use once per cruise, if at all.

NCL fights the same misconception, Lloyd said, adding that it’s up to advisers to compare apples to apples.

“When your customers are standing in front of you, don’t just say ‘here’s a $499 cruise and here’s a $1,299 cruise’ without any sort of frame of reference. You have to say “it’s $499 and that’s what you’ll pay extra on board the ship” or “it’s $1,299 and includes all those things”.

Cruise categories are obsolete
One misconception that Wallace and Lloyd have urged the travel advisor public to abandon is the concept of cruise categories like contemporary, premium and luxury.

“The biggest myth about Celebrity that I’d like to dispel is that we’re a premium brand,” Wallace said. “We are the new luxury. It’s who we are. It’s basically all the perks you find with a luxury cruise line, like great service, great dining experience, and attention to detail…but where we have an edge over these guys is is a big ship. It also means Broadway-style shows, an expansive casino, multiple pools, and shopping.

“You need to stop putting cruise lines in these classified buckets,” Lloyd said. “You can’t say that an interior on Oceania is a more luxurious product than a Haven Suite on Norwegian. This is simply not the case. Every cruise line has different customers…find the right product that works for them but not based on your preconceptions, that it’s a premium brand and it’s a contemporary brand, that’s is a luxury brand.

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