Some time ago I heard this in a cruise line training class about cruise-tours, and it has stuck with me ever since: “If you are not selling cruise-tours, you are leaving money on the table.” They weren’t exaggerating. As an example, let’s consider an agency that gets 10% commission with Princess Cruises. Take a 7 night Alaskan cruise with cruise line vacation protection, and add a 4 night pre-cruise tour.
The cruise-only commission works out to about $498. The cruise-tour commission works out to about $769. That is a difference of $271 you would be leaving on the table if you focus on booking cruises only. Obviously, the higher commission percentage that an agency gets, the more significant the difference is between cruise-only bookings and cruise-tour bookings.
What is a Cruise-Tour?
If you don’t sell a lot of cruises, or you’ve just never sold a cruise-tour, you may be unfamiliar with the concept. In certain destinations, the cruise lines offer the opportunity to add pre or post-cruise land options. These options are usually offered in Alaska, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada/New England, Europe, and South America.
Depending on the destination, these land tour options can be as short as 3 days, or as long as 7 or more. These options typically include accommodations, some sightseeing tours, transportation, and occasionally some meals.
Customization versus Cruise-Tours
The land tours that cruise lines offer don’t always meet clients’ needs exactly. Some clients are willing to accept a cruise tour that comes close to their desires, while other clients are very persistent about what they want for their land portion of the trip. In those instances it might require that you book cruise-only with the cruise line, and customize your own land tour.
There are pros and cons to customization. The biggest pro is that you can configure the land tour to your clients exact wishes. Using Alaska as an example, I had clients that did not want any motor coach transportation, no exceptions. All of the cruise line tours in Alaska had a mix of transportation, with some rail and some motor coaches.
Since we could not find a cruise tour with exclusively rail transportation that lined up with the cruise they wanted, we had to customize the land portion. Alaska has plenty of wholesalers you can work with (Alaska Railroad, Alaska Connection, Knightly Tours, Salmon Berry Tours just to name a few) to combine accommodations, transportation, and sightseeing tours.
But there are cons. With customized tours, the pricing will often be higher than what the cruise lines offer. Part of this could be a result of replacing motor coach transportation with more expensive rail options. However, the cruise lines do a great deal of cruise-tour business, so their contracts for hotels and transportation can be very competitively priced when compared to smaller wholesalers. If a client is willing to pay the higher price to get exactly what they want then it isn’t really an issue.
Another con is that cruise lines can have exclusive components that cannot be replicated when customizing. Princess cruise-tours in Alaska are a perfect example. Princess offers the “Direct to Wilderness” rail transportation between Whittier and Denali or Talkeetna (in both directions). Not even the Alaska Railroad can offer this. It’s an attractive option to get on a train in Talkeetna or Denali, and go straight to the ship. If you customize an Alaska land tour focusing on rail transportation only, you’re forced to schedule your clients to have an overnight stop in Anchorage.
Whether with the cruise line or by customizing, don’t leave money on the table by not offering a cruise-tour option to your clients looking at the destinations where it makes sense to combine a cruise with a land-based tour.
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.