Building the Road to Successful Relationships – Personalization is the key | TravelResearchOnline


Building the Road to Successful Relationships – Personalization is the key

Today businesses focus not on just being found, but also making sure their products and services are purchased and used. And not just the one time, but again and again. In the travel industry, we are more than just a service because we help our clients create memories of a lifetime. As a result of social media, there are numerous, diverse channels that can be used to market what we do. Getting clients to continue to book through us again and again really gets down to building that successful client relationship, and where personalization is the key.

Regardless of our respective titles? We are all in sales. Jason, a savvy, successful sales professional colleague has brought that up to me a few times. In the travel industry we have to market, also continually keeping on top of technology, along with the travel products and experiences we sell. Most importantly? We also put our time and effort into making sure the clients we deal with know we’re not treating them like a “number”; this is where building that relationship, with personalized touches, is so critical.

Building that successful client relationship is a journey, and where personalization is part of that ongoing successful road.

Insights from Ellen Bettridge, President & CEO, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

Ellen Bettridge, CEO
Ellen Bettridge, CEO, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

Ellen Bettridge, who recently became President & CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, is well known for her relationship building style. She’s also mentioned relationships are critical, and really what Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is about as well as their parent company, The Travel Corporation (TTC).

I asked Ellen if she could share more about this, along with what she feels is at the core of building successful relationships. Ellen explained, “Trust is the building block of any successful relationship. I consistently hear from travel agents that they love our product and are happy with our call center and sales team. Agents trust our team, and that we will deliver an exceptional experience every time, thus protecting the trust that they have built with their clients. We work very hard to maintain the highest levels of service so that we can keep this trust among agents.”

As far as travel agents who are building their businesses, they have to build successful relationships with their clients as well as suppliers. And Ellen provided a few key takeaways. She said, “I go back to trust, as well as treating everyone as an individual and having genuine passion for what you do as the key tenants of building successful relationships.”

Separating Yourself from the Competition

Ellen has mentioned that Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is the ultimate river cruise luxury product. When I asked her what Uniworld does to separate itself from its competitors, Ellen provided some wonderful insights. She explained, “Uniworld provides a surpassed level of personalization in both its décor and in its service. The immaculate décor onboard all Uniworld ships tell a story. No two Uniworld ships look alike, which is something that separates us from our competition. The décor on each ship mirrors the history and ambiance of the destination it sails to, which in turn gives passengers a more culturally immersive experience and a chance to learn more about the cities and villages they visit.”

Ellen went on and provided another wonderful point, saying, “Additionally, the service Uniworld provides reaches far beyond its competition, with one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios in the river cruise industry. The staff onboard, and on land, can accommodate any request a guest may have to make their experience the best it can be.”

While talking, I mentioned this mindset is one that applies to travel agent professionals as well. I asked her what suggestions she had for travel agents to separate themselves from their own competitors – what “road” should they take to elevate themselves and build those long-lasting relationships. Ellen mentioned, “Agents can separate themselves from their competitors and build great relationships by defining how they are invested in getting to know their client’s personal passions and finding experiences that are tailored to what they wish to discover.”

She went on, explaining, “Education is also a critical component, as it’s important to understand what is out there and how each offering is different. For example, I talk to a lot of travel agents who say they’ve been on a Viking river cruise, but I tell them that they haven’t been on a luxury river cruise. There is a real difference with Uniworld, and it’s important for us to educate agents on what that difference is for clients who want a true luxury experience.”

Personalization – Knowing your Customers

We also discussed a bit more about how personalization is key trait of successful businesses, and this seems to be at the core of what has made Uniworld such a successful river cruise line. This is also something that travel agent professionals can use successfully. Ellen mentioned, “Personalization is knowing your customer. By developing knowledge of passenger’s interests, preferences, and style, Uniworld is better able to anticipate guests’ desires and needs. Personalization is that extra step that shows commitment and dedication to creating memorable experiences for customers on an individual basis. I would advise travel agents to get to know not just the travel preferences of their clients, but also their personal passions. If an agent knows that a client is oenophile or history buff, for example, they will be able to suggest the right itinerary that connects to an emotional response, which is critical to creating a defining experience and lasting memory.”

Tell your Story

In her role as President & CEO at Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, Ellen mentioned that one of her first tasks was to find a new ad agency to help “tell their story.” I asked if she had any suggestions on how travel agents could also successfully “tell their stories” so future clients, as well as existing ones, could understand how they are different and provide more. Ellen explained, “We live in a world of information overload, so simplicity is key. With our new ad agency, I’m looking to bring all of the unique elements of Uniworld together into one concise and cohesive message. My advice for agents is to do the same; develop an elevator speech for yourself that is distinctive and memorable.”

The Importance and value of Travel Agents

Ellen has also mentioned that in her role her job is to educate as well as continuing to support travel agents. When I asked her more on how they would be doing this, she said, “Travel agents are a huge asset to Uniworld, which is why we see value in educating them about the Uniworld product. We are extraordinarily focused on maintaining and also growing our work with travel agents. “

She then went on, explaining, “For example, in early 2017, Uniworld will launch a private trade portal available directly via Travel Agent University’s (TAU) active member community of over 50,000 certified members. This portal will enable agents to participate in robust education, earn rewards, and be privy to exclusive deals, as well as have access to valuable sales tools, webinars, videos, itineraries and other company assets to help increase their sales.”

A Few more Takeaways

Yes, building those successful, genuine, long-term relationships with our clients, as well as the suppliers we work with, is something that occurs over time. But that savvy sales professional colleague of mine, Jason, has also shared one thought he lives by – “Be the person who makes everyone feel like someone.”

Yes, we need to make people feel like they are someone, don’t we?


Cindy Bertram has  15+ years of cruise and travel industry expertise in marketing, sales, training, diverse content creation, as well as areas of social media, including blogging. She handles projects through her own company, Cindy’s Inside Cruise and Travel Track, LCC, in addition to working in small business consulting. A diverse writer who’s nationally published, Cindy has presented workshops at travel and cruise conferences, along with being the opening speaker for PR NEWS’ Writing Boot Camp Chicago November 2014. Passionate about having a positive impact, her short story, “A Cruise and a Promise,” was included in Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul (published 2002.)    She can be reached at

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