I just returned from Cruise World 2014 in Ft Lauderdale, so ship inspections are fresh on my mind. After comparing notes with other agents who inspected other ships, the question came up: Are these ship inspections really worth our time? And the answer is: It really depends.
Whether these ship inspections are worth our time relies greatly on how the cruise line structures their ship inspections, as well as day-of logistics, with a bit of Murphy’s Law thrown in for good measure. The ideal ship inspection would start between 10:00 AM and 11:00 AM and give you three to four hours on the ship. This allots plenty of time to see select staterooms, take pictures, visit public areas, and see the amenities that set the particular ship apart from other ships and/or cruise lines. Ideally, ship inspections would be guided by Inside Sales Representatives or Business Development Managers leading small groups of twenty agents or less.
But we know in travel, the word “ideal” almost always means there will be a hiccup or two along the way. Inspections are often delayed by Customs not clearing the ship early enough, or passengers dragging their feet getting off the ship. Until all passengers are cleared (to a zero count) and Customs’ signs off, no one can board the ship. At Cruise World, some travel agents were lucky enough to barely get onboard for their ship inspection in time to eat lunch and get off. I have heard horror stories of agents being brought on board, shown the atrium, and immediately turned around and disembarked.
We want to blame the cruise lines when inspections go awry, but it is not totally in their control. What is in their control is how they choose to structure the inspection. Some cruise lines have employees guiding groups of agents, ranging from small groups of ten or twenty agents to large groups of thirty to fifty agents, while others let you do a self-guided tour, giving you a hand out with the list of available staterooms to view, and public areas that they want to highlight. All agents won’t be happy, regardless of what the cruise lines do. Some agents want guided tours by employees of the cruise lines, and complain about self-guided tours. Others prefer the self-guided model and complain about being tethered to an employee-guide. Get over it, be grateful of the opportunity you are being given, and make the most of it.
To help you do that, plan ahead. Wear comfortable walking shoes. Don’t be surprised when they have you taking the stairs and not clogging up elevators. Be ready to jot down notes. Take pictures, lots of pictures.
So, if you happen to end up with a dud of a ship inspection, is it worth your time? What if cruises are not a large part of your business? Should you bother with ship inspections if you have the chance? To both questions, I would answer yes, with qualifications.
If you are flying to a port ONLY to do a ship inspection, and it ends up being a dud, it’s not worth your time or expense. But if you are in town anyway, attending a conference like cruise3sixty or Cruise World, then, by all means, take advantage of the opportunity to inspect a ship you are not already familiar with. If you are in a port town on vacation, plan IN ADVANCE with your local BDM to arrange a ship inspection for you. Your investment in the ship inspection at that point is your time; this is time worth investing in your business, no matter how short the inspection ends up being.
If you are not a big cruise booker, still take advantage of ship inspections when you are able to do so. It never hurts to expand your knowledge of the industry, even when it is outside of your niche. Even if your focus is African photo safaris, and you think you’ll never book a cruise, take a little time to familiarize yourself with the product. You might be pleasantly surprised when a safari client comes back and asks if you can help them book an upcoming cruise. It boils down to this: if the ship inspection does not cost you money (hotel, airfare, etc.) to do JUST the inspection and is solely just an investment of your time, then do it.
A new concept we had available at Cruise World was virtual ship inspections. This was a great opportunity to see European based river cruise ships, like AmaWaterways and Avalon River Cruises, whom we would never have the chance to inspect without flying to Europe.
At the end of the day, ship inspections are educational tools that give us a perspective on the product that we simply cannot glean from the brochures. Do yourself, and your clients, a favor and take advantage of ship inspections when them come your way.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvaations.com) she focuses on travel for 18 to 23 year olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.