The Art of the Cruise Client Referral | Travel Research Online


The Art of the Cruise Client Referral

Susan SchafferWhen that call (or email) comes in from a new client wanting to book a cruise, do you ever consider the future possibilities this current booking may bring to you? Yes, repeat business with this client is part of that, but do you ever consider the referrals this lone booking could bring in? If you don’t, you should. Every cruise booking you create, you should be thinking about what you need to do for this client that will cause them to joyously refer you to everyone they know.

Here is an example: I advertise in a small local boutique store in the greater Nashville area. The shop owner suggested to her sister (in Texas) that she book her cruises through me (instead of going direct). The shop owner had a vested interest here. I’m sure she was fully aware that if I didn’t get business by advertising in her shop, I’d eventually pull my advertising dollars and go elsewhere. Her sister (we’ll call her Jane) did book with me; and then she booked with me again. Both were seven night Carnival cruises in balcony staterooms. Nice commission, but not overwhelming. From her feedback, I knew she was more than happy with my service. However, I did not realize exactly how much so, until a couple of weeks ago.

I get a call from someone in Houston; she got a referral from someone that works at the school where she works. After a little digging I find out she got the referral from someone I had never worked with or talked with, but she had gotten my information from “Jane.” Jane had sung my praises and insisted that they work with me on their upcoming cruise. They hadn’t gotten around to it (they have since then) but based on Jane’s praise alone they passed my information onto someone else, the one who called me.

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I now have a five room, twelve person group for next June. There was no price matching, there was no fussing. Because Jane (and the intermediary) sung it from the roof tops about how great it was working with me, it was an easy close. Fast forward a week, and another call comes in from Houston. This is from the mother of one of the cruisers in this new group. Her daughter referred me simply based on the interaction with me in booking her room in the group (she told her mom that I was “funny”). They haven’t even sailed yet and she’s referring me. At first I thought mom wanted to join her daughter in the June group. Not at all. She wants to form her own group for May of next year; and now this group is up to eight rooms, sixteen people.

So one individual client that I have booked twice has led to two cruise groups for 2016. The simple lesson from this: don’t take those individual bookings for granted. When you wow them with your service, your attention to detail, your expertise and knowledge, your clients will gleefully tell everyone they know all about you. Some consultants will incentivize their clients to make referrals (whether it’s something small like a $5 Starbucks give card for each referral, or a $50 credit off of a future travel booking). However, incentives are not required if you are giving your very best to each and every client.

In any sales and marketing class, you will hear that it is less expensive to retain repeat clients than it is to acquire brand new clients. This is true when you are acquiring new clients through your various marketing efforts (wedding show booths, magazine advertisements, promotional giveaway items, etc.) that cost you money. But acquiring new clients through referrals doesn’t have to cost you anything.

To make your referral pipeline successful, spend some serious time re-assessing your business. Ask yourself the hard questions: How many of your current cruise clients are actively referring new clients to you? What percentage of your total clients are those referring clients? For example, if your answer to question number one is that 100 of your current clients are referring, that sounds great. But if you have 1,000 current clients, that means only 10% of them are referring you, which doesn’t sound as great. Evaluate why the other 90% are not referring you: Are they still booking with you? Do you continually keep in touch with them, staying at the front of their mind? And I don’t mean how often you send “specials” or “deals” their way. Are you sending birthday, anniversary, and holiday cards to them? Are you finding other ways to keep in touch? Do you survey them after every cruise they take? If you do, do you actually phrase questions that illicit helpful answers about you, your agency, the service that you provided, where you can improve, etc.? Showing that you care about their opinion means something to them, especially if they see that you listened and made appropriate changes to your business as a result.

Above all, never assume that “small” individual cruise clients aren’t worth your time. They may end up being a gold-mine of future referrals.

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 or by phone at (888) 221-1209.

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