For those of you who sell cruises, if a cruise line lets you block group space without any kind of bulk deposit commitment from you, why wouldn’t you do it? Most cruise lines, with one or two exceptions, allow you to block anywhere from 8 to 32 rooms without having to pony up a bulk deposit within 30-60 days. Some cruise lines let you hold onto the group space until four months before sailing, at which point they’ll recall any space you have not booked yet. So it astonishes me that there are so many travel agencies that don’t “bother” with blocking group space whenever they can.
Why bother? First and foremost, you are locking in prices and amenities for your clients that help give you a competitive marketing edge. Case in point: I currently have group space held on a Celebrity sailing for later in 2015. I held balcony and Concierge Class staterooms. On this particular sailing, Ocean View, Balcony and Concierge Class rooms are all showing sold out or wait-listed. This is still 9-10 months before sailing. Because of the sailing’s popularity, Celebrity is now doing a manual recall on the Concierge Class rooms. I have been given six days’ notice at which point they’ll take back any unsold Concierge Class rooms from my group. Why are they doing this? Because the category is sold out in individual reservations, and they know that they can sell more rooms at the higher current individual rate if they had the inventory to sell. So they recall unsold (cheaper) rooms from groups, and sell them at a much higher price individually. I’m taking advantage of this. I shot out hundreds of emails to my client list yesterday, as well as private messaged several key contacts through Facebook and LinkedIn. Do they know anyone that would be interested in this itinerary, and interested in saving $1,465 per person? Yes, PER PERSON. That is a savings of almost three THOUSAND dollars on a double occupancy room. Interior rooms are pricing higher than the Balcony and Concierge Class rates I have in my group space. THIS IS A DEAL. And I’m not rebating. These are legitimate cruise-line-sanctioned group rates, making it one heck of a selling point. And I skunk any other travel agency right now being asked to quote Concierge Class rooms on this sailing. They simply can’t. They can only quote inside and suite categories for individual reservations on this sailing. It is definitely a competitive edge and one that you can have for your agency, as well.
This, of course, does not happen on every sailing of every ship. I have group space on a July 2015 sailing, and the prices have remained exactly the same since it opened for booking. My only selling point is that I can offer an onboard credit through the group GAP points without touching my commission. But what have I lost? Absolutely nothing. I didn’t have to pay a bulk deposit. I can market my prices and amenities (i.e. onboard credit), and whatever isn’t sold by the recall date, the cruise line takes back.
The one independent contractor that books through my agency occasionally chides me about the amount of group space I’m holding at any given time of the year. As of today, I have 101 groups active across seven different cruise lines, and I’m likely adding more group space and more cruise lines to the list.
So, which cruise lines are easiest to work with when blocking group space? The short answer: most of them. I will list here the ones I am most intimately familiar with, but don’t take this as an exhaustive, complete list.
- Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
- Celebrity Cruises
- Princess Cruises
- Holland America
- Regent Seven Seas
- Norwegian Cruise Line
If there is a cruise line you are interested in working with to block group space, call and ask them about their specific policies regarding bulk deposits (i.e. do they even require one) and recall/review dates (i.e. do they have you a few days’ notice before recalling space?).
Go out and build your cruise business by blocking more groups and locking in lower prices and more amenities for your clients.
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 email@example.com or by phone at (888) 221-1209.