If you sell cruises, you should take advantage of opportunities that various cruise lines offer to do ship inspections. These opportunities provide the ability to check see staterooms and public areas, etc. without having to sail on the ships.
Do not dismiss ships inspections as a convenient opportunity only for travel agents that live close to cruise ports. If you are land locked as I am, you can still take advantage of ship inspection opportunities. It just takes some planning. Even if you live near a cruise port, advanced planning is required. Because of security concerns, you cannot simply wake up one morning and drive to the port, and be admitted to tour a ship that’s in port.
Whether you are new in the industry, or you’ve been selling cruises for several years, a ship inspection may be your only chance to see a new ship upfront and personal. It then gives you the ability to talk with authority about the ship, better than just forming opinions based on online training provided by the cruise lines.
You can also customize your inspection experience so you can better answer client questions about the trip. For example, if you have clients with disabilities, you can find out first hand how the ship fits their needs, taking pictures that you can share with them about the staterooms, hallways, public spaces, etc.
Do you sell cruises to a lot of clients that travel with families? You can take pictures and notes of staterooms, showing them how their family of six could be adequately accommodated by certain stateroom categories.
When I inspected Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, I took pictures of the XBOX playing stations they have onboard the ship. This helped me sell several families with teenage boys. Yes, I could have simply told them about it, but being able to show them personal pictures sealed the deal.
How do you find ship inspections?
The easiest way to do ship inspections have been through industry conferences, like Cruise World and Cruise 360. They work with the cruise lines to set up group ship inspections for conference attendees. If you attend such a conference, keep an eye for when they start taking registrations for the ship inspections. They will have several ships available, and they’re available on a first come, first serve basis, and fill up fast!
An alternate option is if you have a chance to be near a cruise port, even if there’s no industry conference available. Several months prior to arriving, contact your cruise line Business Development Managers (BDMs) with the various cruise lines. You will need to verify if they can arrange for a private inspection that isn’t part of a bigger group (like those offered at conferences). If the cruse line policy allows for it, work with your BDM to make arrangements several months in advance. You cannot just show up unannounced at the port. You will be denied entry for security reasons.
Your BDM will also be able to advise of you of any prearranged ship inspections they have planned. Carnival Cruises announced recently that there will be around 75 ship inspection opportunities throughout 2018. You can contact your Carnival BDM to express your interest in participating, and ask to be kept in the loop.
What should you do during a ship inspection?
Ship inspections are never long enough. And there’s always a risk that you’ll be delayed in boarding the ship for your inspection, due to delays in the ship clearing Customs. Be prepared for things to not go according to plan.
Once you are actually onboard the ship, don’t take your time. You will need to move through the ship at a brisk pace in order to cover everything in a short time frame. If you are doing a self-guided ship inspection, I recommend going straight to the top and working your way down deck by deck. Definitely take pictures in the buffet, but you are not supposed to stop and partake of the spread, since you are not a guest sailing on the ship.
In group ship inspections, they will often have certain rooms set aside and open for you to check out. You can enter only those rooms, to take notes and/or pictures. It is cruise line protocol that you are NOT to touch anything in the room, NOT to sit on any of the furniture, and NOT to use the bathrooms in the staterooms. In a group setting, you should move in and out of the room as quickly as possible so other agents have their chance as well.
If you arranged an individual ship inspection with your BDM, unless told otherwise, do not expect any staterooms to be available for you to inspect. In that event, you will be restricted only to the public areas of the ship.
After your ship inspection
Once you have completed your ship inspection, as soon after as possible, sit down and write down your thoughts. Using the notes and pictures you took, put together your written review of the ship. Post this on your website and social media business pages. Also, if you have any specific information for a particular client, send them an email with a customized review for them.
Ship inspections are a great marketing tool for travel agents, take advantage of them as much as possible!
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.