A recent Royal Caribbean webcast reminded me of the continual struggle that travel advisors have with suppliers contacting clients directly. Many travel advisors believe that they “own” the client and that suppliers should refrain from marketing to or contacting advisors’ clients, ever. In reality, the clients belong to no one, and suppliers have just as much of a right to contact our shared clients. Let’s face a harsh reality here, suppliers have a vested interest in getting as much repeat business as possible. With the data showing that clients don’t always return to the same travel advisors for future vacations, our suppliers can’t take the chance we’re going to drive the repeat business to them.
The recent Royal Caribbean webcast in question was about the new Royal mobile app that is being rolled out on select ships. The presenters were strongly encouraging travel advisors to include client email addresses when creating the initial reservation. I know many travel advisors, myself included, that resist providing client phone and email addresses that early in the booking process. I have actually created unique email addresses specifically for this use; to provide to suppliers wanting client contact information.
When Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises rolled out this new function in Espresso some time ago, we were reassured over and over that the contact information provided would only be used for emergency situations only. The example given was if a client was on route to embarkation and the cruise line had to disseminate urgent information about a change in the embarkation process (i.e. it was delayed hours or days due to weather). That seems reasonable. We don’t want to slow down the process of getting urgent information to clients.
However, now they want this information so that they can directly communicate with passengers and tell them about this nifty new mobile app. There is nothing emergency or urgent about a mobile app. It is not something that they have to communicate directly. Travel advisors are more than capable of telling clients about the app and how it works. So, why do they need to communicate with passengers directly?
I believe Vicki Freed when she says that Royal Caribbean believes in and supports their travel trade partners. However, sometimes I do wonder about actions that the cruise line takes, and how it feels like it counters the pro-travel advisor sentiment. That is when I remind myself, that the client does not “belong” to me exclusively. And to be honest, as soon as you associate a loyalty program membership number to a booking, the cruise line has all the contact information they need for that booking. There is nothing that we can do at that point to interrupt the communication channel between supplier and passenger.
So, what is a travel advisor to do? If you have a new-to-cruising client, you can still enter your contact information on bookings and act as the communicate conduit between cruise line and client. Just realize that as soon as a client does their online check-in and provides their own contact information, you lose control.
It is important to demonstrate your value and expertise at the beginning and continuing this through your relationship with the client. And knowing that the cruise line will continue to stay in touch with the client after travel, you need to do the same thing. Stay front of mind with your clients and make yourself indispensable to them. Most importantly, educate them about the types of future communications they may see from cruise lines. Let them know that regardless of what a cruise line sends them, you can book anything and everything for them. Some cruise lines have even gone so far as to even pay a small commission on casino bounce back offers, so that we really can book anything that’s offered to our clients.
With the Royal Caribbean webcast about the mobile app, I was a bit disappointed that they are looking for ways to cut into our communications with our clients earlier in the booking process. But, in the end, the client is theirs as much as they are ours. Accepting this is the first step in building a marketing strategy where the client returns to us for their future cruise bookings.
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.