This is everyone’s favorite part to hate – promotion of a cruise sounds rather simple, but it can fall flat, leaving you with no group at all, or a much smaller one than you anticipated. There are a few nuggets you need to understand right away.
First, if you are partnering with a Pied Piper to help attract people to the group, it is imperative that you put the Pied Piper to work promoting the cruise. Be willing and able to provide assistance where you can, including with promotional materials and live appearances, but make the Pied Piper have a heavy responsibility in the success of the group. Also, if you are working with an organization (like with fundraising cruises), it’s important that the leaders of that organization are as excited as you are about the cruise – they can’t be willing to sit on the sidelines and collect any funds raised, but rather they should have an active role in promoting the cruise. After all, the more it’s promoted, the more people sail, the more money they raise!
Promotional materials don’t have to be expensive, but they do need to be done right. Flyers are a common tool, and they work well. Many cruise lines have a flyer-maker of some kind on their agent sites, which you can use to generate flyers that include all the details on the cruise and are print-ready. Alternatively, you can hire someone to design a flyer for you. It isn’t recommended to design a flyer yourself unless you have had experience with that kind of work, and if you have the proper computer software on hand. It’s also inadvisable to print your own flyers – take them to a professional and pay a little bit to have them printed out on good paper, with good ink. I personally use FedEx Office quite a bit – I can upload a digital file of my flyer or brochure to their website and schedule it to be picked up later when I’m running errands. Many smaller print shops may have a similar service. Don’t overlook the cruise line marketing departments – they offer a wide variety of products to agencies, often at no cost, to help promote groups. Letterhead, flyer templates, postcards and more are available.
Websites and Social Media
In this day and age it’s almost a necessity to have a group website dedicated to sharing information about the group for anyone who is interested. If you use WordPress to power your website, consider a separate installation of WordPress on a separate directory within your hosting account. Obtain a custom domain name for the group, and point it to that directory. Voila! Instant website! All you have to do is add in the content and change the theme to reflect your group. Non-WordPress sites can do something similar – it doesn’t have to be a complicated multi-page website. Often, a one or two-page site containing the vital information is enough. Consider accepting group registrations online – it’s a lot easier to handle than paper registrations that must be mailed or faxed in. There are many services that can help you set up an online form and, if you choose, accept online deposit payments.
Social media has been a big game-changer in a lot of ways and this can benefit you in group promotion. Create a Facebook Page for the group and include all the details you can, including a link to your group website, and use the page to publish regular updates about the group, its destinations, and onboard activities available. A good method is to include a blog as part of your group website and link it to the Facebook page so you can update the blog — it cross-posts to Facebook, also.
Request the Pied Piper or organization hype the cruise on their own websites and Facebook accounts. Utilize search engine optimization techniques to help your group website appear in search engines and draw random interest.
Direct mail is one of the more expensive methods of promoting a group but in certain instances it can work pretty well. It’s important to start with a targeted mailing list, not one full of bulk addresses purchased from a list broker. One good example is a nonprofit organization’s mailing list to promote a fundraising cruise. Postcards are cheaper to mail than letters or brochures, but they may not be as effective.
A powerful method of promoting cruises is to get out there and be seen! Host a talk at a business luncheon, or host a cruise night. Record video of you discussing the cruise and sharing clips from the ship and ports of call, and post it on YouTube for your mailing list and website visitors to see. Host webinars or live video conferencing through software like Skype, especially beneficial if your group’s ideal market is spread over a wide geographic area.
Group promotion is one of those things that is so important, yet many don’t push it as much as they really should to ensure great success. The ideas are constantly changing so don’t be afraid to research what other companies (even companies outside the travel industry) are doing to attract new customers and try to incorporate their ideas into your own promotional methods.
Soon, you’ll be on your way to big groups and big money!
Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS is a six-year industry veteran and owner of Exclusive Events At Sea (http://www.exclusiveeventsatsea.com) and Journeys By Steve (http://www.journeysbysteve.com) with specializations in group cruising, individual ocean & river cruising, and personalized experiences in Europe, especially the British Isles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.