It is hard to believe that 2016 will be here in a very short two weeks, and with it the 2016 wave season. Some travel professionals are feeling the effects of the season already, since some cruise lines (like Royal Caribbean) started their season specials back in November. Even if you are busier than in past Decembers, this is the best time to hunker down and work on your New Year’s Resolutions for your business. Once January 1st rolls around, you will (hopefully) be up to your eyeballs in bookings and won’t have the luxury of time to sit down and plan out your 2016 goals.
Where to Start
The logical place to start is with 2015. What worked, what didn’t work, and what can you change or improve upon? Did you host any cruise nights this year? If so, what did they cost and what was your return on investment (i.e. commissions earned on bookings that resulted from the cruise night, compared to the money you spent to host the event)? Did you do any direct mail or email blast campaigns? How successful were they? You should know how many click-throughs you got from email campaigns, or how many calls you got from a postcard direct mail campaign. Doing any of these without tracking the results is a waste of money. You always want to track results so you know what works, and what is worth repeating in the future.
You also need to analyze your 2015 bookings and take a hard look at your hourly income from each booking. This can often be the most painful part (which many agents avoid because of that pain), but it is a vital piece of the puzzle. Without this information you could inadvertently put yourself out of business over time because you don’t realize that you are making so little for the time you’re investing into your business. You have to know how much time and money each booking “costs” you. If you did not track your time spent on each individual booking, you will have to make some educated guesses on each booking this year; and start tracking time spent on every booking in 2016 so that you have a more clear picture at the end of next year.
No two bookings are ever the same, even if they are part of the same cruise group. For example, an inexpensive interior room may only garner a $50 commission, whereas a balcony or suite on the exact same sailing may be a $300 commission. If each booking took 10 hours of your time, the interior room paid you $5 an hour while the balcony or suite paid you $30 an hour. Knowing this pertinent information helps you focus on the bookings that you want to increase, as well as come to grips with the idea of charging fees in order to boost your hourly pay to a living wage.
Ideas for 2016
If you did not host cruise nights or any other events in 2015, why not? What events could you work into your 2016 game plan? You want to reach out to your cruise line BDMs as soon as possible to get on their calendar and to get in line for co-op dollars. If you wait until next summer or fall to ask a BDM for co-op money for a bridal show or cruise night, you might be surprised to find out that their funds have been fully committed for the year and they have nothing to offer you.
If you are associated with a host agency or consortium that offers marketing materials (email campaigns, direct mail campaigns, etc.) sign up for their 2016 marketing campaigns now to that you can take full advantage of everything offered.
If you are not associated with a host or consortium, or the one you are with does not have a marketing campaign you can participate in, put together your own plan. You can work with a local marketing professional to create postcards, brochures, flyers, etc. and to create a complete marketing plan to reach out to current clients as well as to the general public in your area. Whatever you come up with, also make sure you have a concrete way to track results (calls, click-throughs, etc.) so you can identify the successful activities that are worth repeating.
Block cruise group space. Other than the recent shenanigans pulled by Norwegian Cruise Line (increasing the prices on group space being held by travel agents), blocking group space with cruise lines can give you a competitive edge. You lock in the group pricing at today’s rates which can be a significant savings if the individual prices increase in the future. Also, you can secure group amenities like onboard credit, cocktail parties, wine delivered to the staterooms, etc. Each cruise line has different policies about blocking group space, i.e. if bulk deposits are required, when unsold space is due to be recalled, whether they protect group pricing and amenities, etc. Familiarize yourself with the policies, and then block space accordingly. Once you have some group space blocked, market the dickens out of it.
Do you have any particular 2016 business resolutions that you will be focusing on? If so, share them in the comments section below.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.