I think most travel professionals understand that competing on price is a lose-lose proposition. Those agents that are earning higher commissions from cruise lines are at a distinct advantage over agents that only earn the entry level commission on a booking. However those higher commissioned agents can still lose bookings as well; no one is immune. Many agents refuse to sell on price, refuse to price match other agencies, refuse to give up (rebate) any of their commission to “win” a sale. There are even agents that go so far as charging fees in addition to refusing to rebate any of their commission.
Probably the hardest dilemma is when a client comes to you already knowing what (they think) that they want to book. They have done some research and now are coming to you to book. However, more than likely their search was focused more on pricing than anything else. When they come to you, you realize what they have chosen doesn’t fit their needs (based on your extensive qualifying of them). How do you handle a situation where the client is already focused on price?
It is a challenge, but not impossible. If we are consultants and not simply order takers, it is our job to qualify our clients and help them find the best match and value, but not necessarily the cheapest cruise. It takes time and can’t be handled with an assembly-line attitude.
For travel professionals that may be new to selling cruises, here are some tips:
First, assuming this is a new client and not repeat booker, confirm with them if they have cruised before, and how long ago. If it’s been 10 years or longer, their familiarity with cruising will be stale. If they have cruised before, get as many details as possible about their past cruises. What cruise lines, ships, itineraries, and who did they sail with (friends, family, co-workers, etc.)? What did they like about those past cruises, and what did they dislike? How was the food, service, and entertainment? What did they think of their rooms (too cramped? no natural sunlight because it was an interior room? lack of storage space?). For the new cruisers, ask them how important food quality is, what type of entertainment they like, and explain the “compact” sizing of the staterooms. I have overhead one agent explaining interior rooms to her client: “walk into your walk-in closet at home, shut the door and turn off the lights; welcome to your interior stateroom.” She almost always can convert her clients to balcony staterooms or suites.
After you qualify the clients, the task is to match them with the right ship and itinerary that meets their needs. Once you show them the perfect cruise that checks off everything from their wish list, you can delve into pricing. I always suggest starting with quoting a balcony stateroom, or even a suite if it’s a special occasion (like a 50th anniversary). You can always go down in category in order to massage the budget for them, but once you’ve quoted a price to them it is more difficult to sell them up from that category. Based on their budget requirements (which are often more flexible than you think), you can make suggestions that will help them book the right cruise while managing their financial restraints. Show them the savings if they downgrade from a balcony to an ocean view room. Or maybe you can help them save on their airfare to the embarkation port (or is driving more economical because they are a family of 6?).
In the end, if we take the time, we can often help clients pick the right cruise without price being the number one consideration. Don’t misunderstand: price will be a consideration, but it could drop to fourth or fifth place after food quality, service, kids’ activity centers, room sizes, etc. Just because a client starts out with focusing on price, doesn’t mean that it will be the final determining factor when they are finally ready to book with you.
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.