The luxury cruise BDMs don’t seem to come to town as often as their mass market counterparts. But when they do make an appearance, I always hear travel agents lament about how they wish they had luxury clients to book on those ships. My response to them: you do, you just don’t realize it. The majority of my clients are not independently wealthy; nowhere close to it. They do manage to travel comfortably, although not over the top.
All the same, I can sell clients on cruising Regent Seven Seas, especially when they are celebrating something momentous, like a 50th anniversary or 75th birthday. It doesn’t mean they’ll book RSSC every year, but they are open to the idea when it’s something truly to be celebrated. And we’re not necessarily talking about booking them into the new 4,400 square foot Regent Suite on the Seven Seas Explorer (that only prices out to $5,000 per person per night). But here is the key: luxury does not mean $5,000 per person per night. Luxury does not have to mean selling the house and two kidneys in order to pay for the trip of a lifetime.
I’ve told the story before about the Holland BDM that chatted up a couple sailing on a Seabourn cruise. He found out that they had booked previous cruises with a travel agent, but this cruise they’d book direct with Seabourn. When asked why, they told him that they didn’t think their travel agent sold Seabourn, since the TA had never mentioned it to them before. Their travel agent assumed that Seabourn wasn’t in their budget, so never bothered to plant the seeds. And someone else (the cruise line is this case) reaped the rewards.
Never assume that a client won’t be interested in a luxury product. It just might not be a good fit for this year’s vacation, but definitely put it on their radar for a future vacation. Also, by planting the seeds early, you are giving them the chance to save for that momentous occasion. One travel agent related this story to me recently: she had a client several years ago that typically spent about $5,000 a year on their vacation. They knew that they’d eventually want to do a major trip to Australia which was pricing out around $20,000 based on prices at that time. They decided to target Australia for a trip in 5 years, scaling back their current vacations to $3,500-$4,000 a year and putting away the money saved into their “Australia fund.” They also decided to target future tax refunds for their “Australia fund.” Five years passed, this year rolls around, and the clients had the funds to pay for their dream vacation to Australia. The same can be done for a once-in-a-lifetime luxury cruise. Help clients determine what itinerary they might want to book, and what the cruise would cost in today’s prices. If they don’t have a financial planner, refer them to one (maybe someone you’ve met through networking). They can take your price information to a financial planner and ask him/her to help them save enough money to make their dream cruise happen by a certain date that they want to target.
This all boils down to us being true travel consultants for our clients. Don’t just focus on their immediate travel needs. Instead, help them plan their long term travel dreams. Help them identify where they want to go, how they want to travel, and what luxury product(s) fits them best. Remember luxury does not translate to pretentious or snobby. Think of this definition of luxury: something that is considered an indulgence rather than a necessity. Nowhere does it say snobbish, expensive, or stuffy. “An indulgence.”
Review your database. I challenge you to find a dozen clients that you think might consider a luxury trip in the future. Maybe they are celebrating their 44th anniversary this year; start them thinking about what they’d like to do in six years for their 50th anniversary. Maybe you have clients that will be empty-nesters in the next few years, and they’d consider an indulgence for themselves. Once you’ve identified the clients, make a point of meeting with them to discuss travel plans for the upcoming years. Get on their radar about upcoming celebrations, and plant the seeds about luxury cruising. After consulting with them and finding out where they want to go and what they want to see, give them a projected cost for the trip and encourage them to work with their financial planner to put together a savings plan that will let their travel dreams come true.
If you don’t help your clients plan these trips, someone else will, or they’ll think of it themselves and book direct with a supplier.
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.