If you have participated in a cruise line sponsored seminar at sea, or cruised on a TA rate, you’ve either been treated like royalty or felt like you were invisible. Either way, your experience traveling as a travel professional does not give you an authentic experience like what your clients will experience when they cruise.
Because we don’t receive the same treatment as consumers when we’re traveling as recognized travel agents, I strongly encourage travel professionals to cruise “undercover” as often as possible. Yes, that means paying full fare without TA discounts. But you can evaluate the consumer experience much more effectively this way.
I am doing this next month when I board the Celebrity Equinox for an 11 night itinerary out of Ft Lauderdale. I got a great cruise fare, because I had blocked group space early, before they had started their Go Big, Go Better, Go Big promotion. Once the promotion was announced I decided that I needed to take advantage of my great group prices, add the Go Best promotion, and evaluate the consumer experience under the new promotion.
I have already been able to experience the pre-cruise consumer experience, and have provided constructive feedback to Celebrity Cruise’s about some issues I have already identified. If I had waited to see if a TA rate would come out, I may have lost out if no TA rate was available. If one was available, I’m not sure if it would have been combine-able with the promotion, and I definitely would have had a different pre-cruise experience, which would have denied me some very valuable information which will improve the service that I provide to my clients.
Once onboard the ship, I want to have the same experience my clients will also have. How can I effectively advise my client on what to expect, if my treatment onboard the ship is tainted by the fact that I’m a travel professional? Paying to cruise “like the masses” is a price we pay for our ongoing education. You can read all about the ships. You can study deck plans until they are emblazoned in your memory. You can familiarize yourself with every amenity provided on the ship, with every restaurant venue available for a fee or complimentary, etc. But first hand experience always trumps “book learning.”
I encourage other travel professionals to build “traveling as a consumer” into the annual business plan and overall agency budget. I am not a CPA or accountant, and avoided classes in school where math was involved. However, I would encourage you to speak with your professional CPA or accountant and discuss the tax deductions you may be able to take for your travel expenses. There are receipts that need to be kept, and other records you may need to have to justify the expenses of such travel. You may have to separate your expenses from that of your spouse (unless he/she is part owner of your agency, but discuss it with your tax professional). And the kids’ travel expenses likely never qualify as a tax deduction.
Now I’m going to channel Nolan Burris here. Why does he encourage use to charge fees for our services? Because of the expertise, knowledge, education and first hand experience we have that allows us to serve them better than any OTA. All of that education and experience costs us money; money we should be recovering via charging fees. However, even if you have a business model where you don’t charge fess, the cost of traveling like a consumer should be factored into your business experiences so that you can provide the best possible service to your cruise clients.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, 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.