Last fall when I reached out to a savvy cruise line executive for some input and help, he said, “Cindy, you need to be more visible to be found, and not be a hidden gem.” It was a great tip, and I’ve reworked my own strategy, along with implementing new tactics to hit my key target and goal.
As the landscape of travel industry continues to change and evolve, the growth of the home-based travel professional has become a viable one. Storefront retail travel agencies still exist, and with that can bring more immediate visibility. In the case of home-based professionals, ways to be visible in order to build ongoing clients and get referrals requires more tactics, but ones that can be implemented using diverse strategies.
Input from Mark Conroy, Managing Director, the Americas, Silversea Cruises
No stranger to the cruise industry, Mark Conroy’s most recent past role was head of Regent Seven Seas Cruises – he was there for over twenty years. In February, Mark became Managing Director, The Americas, Silversea Cruises. Always known for being extremely accessible, Mark has been traveling across the country, a week and a half each month, visiting travel agents. The travel industry is thrilled to have him back, and accessibility is something he’s well known for in his previous leadership roles.
When I asked Mark why accessibility is so important, and what’s a good takeaway for travel professionals to use, he explained: “It is important to be accessible to make sure you have a sense of the market from the agents’ perspective. Also, we compare their feedback with the information we get from our team along with what guests in our surveys and their correspondence provide, to make sure we are well aligned.”
Mark expanded a bit more on this, explaining, “Agents on the front line are typically the first to experience new trends that can affect business – what’s hot and what’s not, along with what is working and what is not, before we do. So their feedback helps shape our ‘go to market’ strategy. The other reason to be visible and interact with agents? We are asking them to trust us with their most valuable clients. I have found when you know an agent or agency and understand their business, they are much more likely to trust you.”
The Beauty of Working with Existing Clients
Travel professionals are told that when building sales, working with existing clients is easier than going through the process of trying to find new clients. Mark readily agrees and mentions, “The beauty of repeat business is you know where the guest/client lives, how to reach them, and hopefully what they like and dislike. You also have history and hopefully their trust.”
He goes on, “If clients or potential ones have experienced a cruise, they most likely enjoyed it and will be interested in sailing again. So when you offer them a more upscale experience like Silversea, you don’t have to sell the benefits of cruising because they’ve got that. All the agent needs to do is share with the client the benefit of being one of few, versus one of many.
“If they were on a premium or contemporary cruise, they also probably understand the variable cost/income model those companies use – it costs them more to get off the ship than it does to get on. With that knowledge, you, as their travel professional, can take them through our inclusive pricing. Initially upfront it looks high, but when you dive in you/they will hopefully realize the total cost of the luxury cruises on Silversea are fairly comparable.”
Creating the Virtual Circle
Mark further explains that this is what creates a “virtual circle.” It not only benefits the guest, but the agent who handles the booking, as well as the cruise line – in this case, Silversea Cruises. What occurs?
- The guest gets a luxury cruise vacation they did not know they could afford
- The agent makes at least twice as much commission since we (Silversea Cruises) pay on the inclusive price and have fewer NCF’s.
- We, as the cruise line, find a new customer that helps our load factor.
- Since we have about a 60% repeat factor on any sailing, both we and the agent develop a long term, profitable customer who will sail with us again and again.
The Positives of River Cruising
Mark then brings out the positives that the growth that river cruises have brought to the industry. He mentions, “One other point I would like to make is about river cruises. At first they attracted the motor-coach tour client, but have moved more mainstream and are attracting the experienced cruiser, which I think is great for Silversea.”
He explains, “Why do I say that? Well, what we have in common with river cruises is the limited number of guests, the personal service, and their all-inclusive nature. So once a client moves from a large 3,000 to 5,000 guest ship to a 140 guest river cruise? They are much more likely to think that our 296 to 540 guest ships at Silversea are a better fit for them than going back to a mega ship. And of course we are not limited with facilities like a river cruise is.”
Creating More Visibility
Mark mentions that in the past few years, Silversea Cruises has not been as visible, perhaps, as it should be, and this is an area of focus. I asked Mark for some insights on the need for visibility when continuing to grow and build a successful company. He explains, “When you create a relationship with an agent/agency at a variety of levels including reservations, inside sales, the local sales director and senior management, it changes the dynamics of the business. So instead of being just another supplier, you become business associates/partner with a common goal of growing your mutual business profitably.
“When we help each other grow our businesses, the agency becomes the ‘go to partner’ when we are driving business and we hopefully become the ‘go to supplier’ for promotions and sales opportunities. Agents today have lots of options and I am sure they are sometimes overwhelmed with data from all sorts of great suppliers. I am not sure how they keep track of it, but at the end it should lead them to selecting the best supplier to focus on and work together.
“I love to work with agents who have a large book of existing luxury business where hopefully we are getting our fair share of it,” Mark explains. “But I am just as excited by an agency/agent with a large book of contemporary or premium clients, because we have an opportunity to grow our business together.”
Sharing Your Diversity and the Differentiating Your Brand
Silversea Cruises also has an expedition product that brings adventure while also providing their guests with an opportunity not to leave their luxury brand. This provides some differentiation for Silversea Cruises. Mark and I talked about ways for travel professionals to also find a way to make their brand stand out. He says, “Every client has their bucket list. And if they don’t, the agent should help them develop it. For a well-traveled person, that list (after the major cities and countries of the world) probably includes some expedition destination including Antarctica, the Arctic, and the Galapagos—all destinations we service.
“For experienced luxury guests,” Mark explains, “We offer them the opportunity to visit these areas in the comfort they enjoy, so they don’t need to rough it to have the experience.
“Also at Silversea,” Mark mentions, “The great thing we have found is that many of the guests who are expedition focused are usually not cruise focused. They have the misconception that all ships are large and crowded, with overstuffed buffets and the ambiance of a theme park or shopping mall. They are only taking our cruise because it is the best way to get to the destination they want to see. But once they are onboard and experience the great personal service, wonderful food, and interacting with other interesting people? They begin to rethink cruising and the jump from our 132 guest expedition ship to our 296/382 guests classic ships, which is not too far to go.”
Mark’s Advice for Travel Professionals to Be Visible
I asked Mark for suggestions on how travel agent professionals can be more visible, and he provides great suggestions. He notes, “Be proactive, not reactive. You should be in touch with your clients at least once a month. Not in a harassing way; but things as simple as birthday greetings to a post card, periodic emails, or a phone call. We have promo pieces and electronic tools that can help agents do that.”
Mark also suggests, “Agents should attend our webinar to learn more about the ship and become an expert. They should plan a client event which might feature us and a few other luxury suppliers. If they have client who has experienced Silversea, they should ask them to bring their friend to the event. Agents should all have a Facebook page and website that tells both their story, and the story of their preferred suppliers. They should also feature endorsements and accolades from happy customers. I guess another way of saying it? Be where the customer wants you to be and communicate with them in the way they like. By the way, if you are not talking to your client regularly, I am sure someone else will be.”
Finally, Mark notes, “There’s one more key point about focusing on existing clients. If your serve them well, they are an excellent source of new business through referrals; so they do the prospecting for you.”
A Few Thoughts From Me
Being visible, along with communicating with clients on an ongoing basis really says it best. You don’t want to be the hidden gem.
Cindy Bertram has 15+ years of cruise and travel industry expertise in marketing, sales, training, diverse content creation, as well as areas of social media, including blogging. She handles projects through her own company, Cindy’s Inside Cruise and Travel Track, LCC, in addition to working in small business consulting. A diverse writer who’s nationally published, Cindy has presented workshops at travel and cruise conferences, along with being the opening speaker for PR NEWS’ Writing Boot Camp Chicago November 2014. Passionate about having a positive impact, her short story, “A Cruise and a Promise,” was included in Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul (published 2002.) She can be reached at email@example.com