How To Market Cruises | TravelResearchOnline

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How To Market Cruises

Susan SchafferI know it’s a Catch-22: A lot of travel professionals don’t want to spend the resources on marketing inexpensive cruises that will garner commissions that are less than the money spent on the initial marketing. However, if we aren’t actively marketing, how much business are we possibly missing? When it comes to marketing, we definitely need to do some analysis beforehand.

First you need to decide what product(s) make financial sense to partner with a particular promotional idea, based on how much the marketing will cost you and the number of bookings that you estimate it will generate for you. If your marketing will cost you $1,200, then how many $199 cruises do you need to sell to recover that money through commissions paid? (Hint: a lot.) However, if your marketing cost is only $150, fewer low cost cruise commissions would need to be generated to cover your expenses.

When I’m evaluating a marketing idea (whether it’s an ad in a magazine, a booth at a community fair, or sending out direct mail pieces), my goal is to be able to recover that cost outlay with as few bookings as possible. For example, if a postcard campaign is going to cost me $800, I want to promote a product that will recover that initial $800 with two to three bookings maximum. Then any subsequent bookings are profit in my pocket, which of course is our goal at the end of the day. That means I need to pick a product that will generate $300-$400 commissions per booking (or as I look at it, $150-$200 per person commission). So an $800 postcard campaign is not going to be used to promote $199 three-night cruises where my commission might be $34 per booking (or $17 per person). However, promoting a balcony or suite special on a mass market cruise line would fit the bill (along with luxury cruise line products where a single booking would exceed the cost of the postcard campaign). If I’m going to promote inexpensive cruise options, then I’ll save the $199 cruise promotion for that community fair booth that only costs $50 for participation.

After you have matched your product(s) with the right marketing option, your next step is to pick the right audience to target. You have more control over your audience targeting when dealing with direct mail pieces, compared to having a booth at an event where you have no control over the audience (and often don’t have any real demographic information ahead of time regarding who will be in attendance). So if you have decided on direct mail and are promoting a balcony or suite promotion with a cruise line or promoting a luxury cruise line in general, you can get some good demographic information from your suppliers. Their BDM can provide you with the information you need regarding who is the best fit for their product, including household income, average age of passengers, home values, etc. Armed with that information, you can then customize your mailing list (from your CRM or from a list you purchase) so that you are only sending your marketing pieces to the potential clients that are the best fit.

When you are doing an event like a bridal show, the organizers will often have some demographic information ahead of time, which they’ve pulled together from past shows. So you can go into the event with some information that can help you with developing your flyers and other handouts which targets that specific audience. Other events like school and community fairs may prove more difficult to pinpoint a specific demographic, in which case you may have to develop a more generic handout or have several different types of handouts (i.e. one that targets family cruises, another which is more targeted to couples, etc.).

Ultimately, the goal is to make money off of any marketing that you do, not to just break even. It is necessary to resist the temptation to do something for the heck of it. Everything must be evaluated ahead of time to determine what will be most profitable, matching the right cruise product with the right type of marketing. Cruise line BDMs can be a wealth of information and will share with you what they have seen succeed in the past, not to mention the possibility of them providing some co-op dollars to help you market their product.

Never dismiss an idea out of hand, but don’t rush to try something without testing and analyzing it first, to ensure your money is always well spent.


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.kickbuttvacations.com), she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at susan@shipsntripstravel.com or by phone at (888) 221-1209.

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