Are the most successful, rapidly growing theme cruise charter companies ready to share the wealth? Yep, looks like.
The two biggest players – Sixthman Productions of Atlanta and Entertainment Cruise Productions of St. Louis – pay commissions to travel agents. ECP in particular is aggressively developing the agency distribution system.
These full ship charterers take over the entire ship – making the experience unique – and claim to have the happiest guests on the high seas. And my research shows that there is something to this satisfaction claim.
Always on the lookout for cost effective ways to increase customer loyalty and satisfaction, as well as identify developing market segments – a recent random encounter with past participants in ECP’s Smooth Jazz Cruise got my attention. Their effusiveness was contagious…representing the best kind of word-of-mouth buzz a travel retailer could hope for.
But, I needed convincing. Aren’t the fare markups over the typical non-charter cruise…enough to dissuade many prospects?
Just what is the added value that accounts for a repeat rate north of 60%?
What’s the sizzle that would cause one recent music themed charter to sell out in just 75 days?
The most often heard answers…
- A ‘one-big-family’ atmosphere once on board
- Total emersion in music – two formal shows per night with all artists on board taking to the stage for an end-of-show jam
- Many spontaneous performances – by pool and night time in small venues – featured artists sitting in with the ship’s musicians
- Socializing, dining and becoming lifelong friends with many of the best and most famous artists of today
My take – I get the sense that these charters are the perfect opportunity for wanna be groupies – too shy or polite to actually make a move on their own – to let the artists come to them. Stories abound of artists seeking out fans, stopping by their dining tables, swapping stories, exchanging contact information, etc. (Do you have to hang a sign over your table saying “Famous Artist Stalkers Wanted”?)
So, how much can agency earn by selling this unique experience?
Sixthman pays a flat 10%. ECP has a base of 10% and offers 15% on many cabin categories.
Michael Lazaroff, Executive Director of ECP, points out that due to their pricing, an agent can gross more money selling an ECP cruise at a base of 10% than earning 15% (with override) on a conventional cruise.
What are important distinctions between the two companies?
Sixthman – having done some 49 full ship charters to date – caters primarily to the rock & roll crowd on shorter, three and four day cruises. The onboard ambiance is party, party, party. The chartered ships are usually mass market, such as NCL or Carnival.
In 2011, Inc. Magazine named Sixthman ‘Americas Fastest Growing Travel Company’, describing the product as “theme cruises with an emphasis on celebrating the communities around pop musicians and their fans.”
Sixthman is beginning to branch out from rock to producing folk and bluegrass festivals at sea.
ECP has produced some 30 full-ship charters and offers the more upscale Jazz Cruise and the immensely popular Smooth Jazz Cruise. These are seven day cruises on premium class Holland America Lines. Their demographic is a little older and more laid back.
Both companies have promotional PDF graphics and materials available online that can be used for agency marketing.
Their websites are extensive and offer a great deal more on their respective offerings.
http://www.ECPcruises.com – Read about ECP’s history, style and currently available theme charters, which include the Jazz Cruise, the Smooth Jazz Cruise, Malt Shop Memories Cruise, the Soul Train Cruise, the Studio 54 Cruise and last but not least, the Ship of Fear Horror Cruise (“Oh no, waiter, please don’t spill more coffee down my dress! We’ll give you a five star rating, promise!”)
http://www.Sixthman.net – A Cruise Critic Editor’s Pick for 2010 as “Best for Music Lovers”, Sixthman has some interesting theme sailings coming up, including the Simple Man Cruise, the Kiss Kruise, the Turner Classic Movie Cruise, the Mountain Song Cruise (folk & bluegrass), the Rock The Boat Cruise and Kid Rock’s ‘Chillin’ The Most’ Cruise.
My own agency will be testing the waters by promoting a few of these departures, so we’ll have more to report soon, including an extensive interview with Michael Lazaroff.
Meanwhile, turn the music up!