After months of isolation that have made people long to reconnect, a number of industry players are launching new services designed to bring travel advisors—from top sellers to brand new entrants—together in new and unique ways.
The biggest is The 1000, an ambitious effort to find, honor, and support 1,000 of the nation’s top-producing travel advisors (think $1.5 million minimum in annual sales).
Founder Jeff Sirota—whom many know from his past life on both sides of the industry, at Protravel and at Small Luxury Hotels of the World, now a partner at hospitality representation company J.MAK—says leisure salespeople have such a broad customer base that it’s “really difficult to drill down in a sea of advisors to find the top producers.”
Often salespeople “blindly comp or do favors for” advisors who win awards from their consortia, Sirota said—“but when Read the rest of this entry »
Part 2 of 2 in a series on how to cope with long telephone hold times. Read Part 1.
Gilligan might have regretted booking his three-hour tour on the S.S. Minnow that turned into a 60s TV show, but today’s travel advisors have come to rue their own travel nightmare: the four-hour telephone hold times involved in trying to reach some suppliers.
At AmaWaterways, chief marketing officer Janet Bava noted that call volumes skyrocketed when Europe loosened its travel guidelines in March. “We saw a huge influx in demand, and we had to staff up very quickly across the board. It was an issue, but we’ve been able to solve it.”
It took about two weeks to respond, she acknowledges; but now Read the rest of this entry »
Part 1 of 2 on what travel advisors say is the biggest issue in the industry. Follow us next week for Part 2, as suppliers respond.
Angela Hughes is feeling lucky that her $2 million in personal annual sales allows her to hire a team of assistants. She uses them to hold the phone for her—often for hours at a clip—when she needs to call a supplier.
“Right now I’m trying to close a group of 50 for 2023—but I can’t get any space, and we have four-hour wait times to boot,” she says. “So I pay an assistant to sit on hold all day every day. It helps me earn a lot more revenue. But I can’t get over the inefficiency of the tour companies that makes it necessary.”
Hughes is passionate on the subject these days, she says. “I’m only using suppliers who help us—and if that means I have to move away from preferred suppliers, so be it. I’m moving all my tour clients over to Globus because they answer quickly. I dread that I ever booked a group to Club Med—I waited six hours on the phone one day, and then my client Read the rest of this entry »
Mask mandates are falling, but many travelers remain wary of international travel—making the timing perfect for a new kind of summer vacation. One that is unique, Instagrammable, domestic, safe—yet thrilling and lots of fun. Enter Viking Cruises’ newest product, an expedition ship chock full of motorized gadgets sailing the Great Lakes.
The brand-spanking-new expedition class Viking Octantis, custom-built to cut through the ice in Antarctica or slip through the locks of the St. Lawrence, launches in May. With prices starting at $5,995 per person plus air, the Polar Class 6 Viking Octantis holds just 378 guests in 189 staterooms and 256 crew. The focus, of course, is Read the rest of this entry »
Onboard Viking Octantis in the Caribbean Sea—There’s nothing quite like sailing a ship’s maiden voyage. Viking’s gorgeous new expedition ship still has that new car leather smell, with an overlay of wood.
On the sold-out repositioning voyage heading from winter in Antarctica to summer in the Great Lakes, I joined a cadre of Viking fanatics and a couple dozen press this week as we checked her out. And while there may have been a glitch or two, everyone seemed to agree she is beautiful and roomy—and the toys on board are just out of this world.
In the Viking definition of all-inclusive, guests do not pay extra for at least one shore excursion a day or for the use of the zodiacs, the submarine, or the Special Operations vehicle used by the Norwegian navy—all of which Read the rest of this entry »
Looking for extra income or just something to do while business was slow, travel advisors have expanded beyond their usual routines into new avenues—both inside the business and out.
At My Path Unwinding Travel in Waxhaw, NC, for example, Karen Shelton noticed that 11 of the 12 customers in her Disney Wonder group had booked suites—and decided to promote an all-suite group on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas for the first time, so customers can compare the two.
“I’m super excited about this,” says Shelton, whose specialty has traditionally been Disney concierge-level suites. “I booked the Royal Suite for myself and got the ball rolling.”
The numbers are still coming in, she says Read the rest of this entry »
Onboard Viking Radgrid on the Seine — Monet’s Garden is not yet open and the cherry blossoms are just beginning to bloom. Even so, all of us in attendance were thrilled to kick off this year’s river cruise season in Europe, at the official Naming Ceremony of eight new Viking longships.
The actual ceremony was a joyful reunion of travel writers, travel advisors, Viking executives and Edelman PR folks, many of whom have not seen each other since 2020, when Viking decided not to launch these ships at all. Two years and five days later, we arrived on the very day France lifted most of its Covid restrictions, including pre-arrival testing for vaccinated travelers and masking at indoor venues.
Back then, Hagen noted, Viking had 10,000 employees, $3 billion in revenue and an annual Read the rest of this entry »
Aboard Wonder of the Seas, between Puerto Rico and the Bahamas — It’s Day Five of the Wonder of the Seas’ maiden voyage sailing the Caribbean out of Fort Lauderdale, with stops at San Juan and Nassau, Labadee and CocoCay. While only 60% full today, with a contingent of about 100 media and many Loyal to Royal repeat cruisers, at full capacity she can carry 6,988 total guests on 18 decks.
A big ship fan myself(and a small ship fan too!), I’m having a blast, but with the help of one onboard press conference, a Coffee Talk with Vicki Freed and an interview with SVP Jay Schneider, I’ve also learned a lot.
So here are a few things I think travel advisors might like to know when you go to sell the ship: Read the rest of this entry »
Like Girl Scouts who are always prepared, travel advisors know that a successful vacation often comes down to having a backup plan. So when Lene Minyard of Perfectly Planned Journeys gathered a group of insiders earlier this month to come up with ideas to help travel recover, it’s no surprise they proposed a Plan B—for their own businesses, for their customers, and for the industry as a whole.
The discussion began, of course, with concerns over the present situation. “There’s a lot of new blood coming into the industry; they are coming in by the droves,” said The Travel Institute’s Guida Botelho. “We get 8-10 new people every single day. And we have a responsibility to educate and empower and propel these people forward.”
But for new advisors—and for the thousands of travel advisors already in business—it’s almost impossible to keep up with the changing regulations of every supplier and destination. And of course, there’s the Damocles sword: the better job you do and the more information you share with clients, the greater your liability if you say the wrong thing.
“We need more training on being a business owner, on defining the advisor’s role in the midst of the pandemic,” said TRUE Global Network vice president Margie Jordan. “When you make it your burden [to give clients information], it becomes your liability. Where do we draw the line? What is our duty of Read the rest of this entry »
Let’s just say that unique times call for unique strategies. Being so deep in the throes of omicron concerns (could that have been just a couple of weeks ago?), it’s not surprising that some travel advisors took a step beyond the usual marketing strategies to reach new and existing customers.
Leave it to the younger generation to head for Hulu. While everyone agrees that taking a group by the hand and posting your adventures on social media is the best way to build confidence among customers, 29-year-old Dillon Guyer put together “some incredible footage” he filmed of everything from Clearwater, Florida, to Virgin Voyages, Athens and Istanbul while he did that. He then posted it on the Hulu channel using a new program in beta testing.
With an investment of $2,000, Guyer signed up for a plan that bills him every time a Hulu customer plays his ad; so far Read the rest of this entry »
Just hang in there for two or three more weeks, travel advisors, and things will be better.
That’s the biggest take-away from a press conference yesterday featuring Norwegian Cruise Line’s CEO Frank del Rio and the head of its Health and Safety Committee, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who sits on the board of Pfizer.
Here’s my transcript of what they said, slightly edited for brevity. I took notes in shorthand, which I am pretty good at but a word or two may be off, and I apologize for that. Read the rest of this entry »
It took a village to survive in the travel industry in 2021, and I am amazed by the smart and generous travel advisors who shared their stories with me throughout the year. In the final weeks of the year, I came across some amazing stories of teamwork and perseverance during the Dream Vacations/Cruise One conference.
Julie Vowell, Jodi Denney, Lisa Merutka and Barbara Linebarger, for example, have been pooling their resources since they met in 2016. They were brought together in their pj’s as a fire alarm went off in the hotel where they were staying during a training program, and have supported one another ever since. Read the rest of this entry »
The travel industry is rolling with the punches again, as 2021 rolls to a close and every day brings a new news cycle. Again.
Just two weeks ago at the US Tour Operators Association, the speakers were bullish about what 2022 would bring and travel advisors were looking forward to a great year. But this week, there’s a slight hesitation in everyone’s step, as omicron spreads on land, air and sea.
“This is going to be a tough week,” says Zena Beaver in Selinsgrove PA. “Three days ago all was good—but after the six o’ clock news last night, I received three emails and two texts about postponing trips from January to later in the year.”
“Those take-home Covid test kits are the new toilet paper,” joked Jennifer Trinin at ProTravel in Westbury, NY. “Maybe we can get ones with logos on them to Read the rest of this entry »
“We are a little broken. Life is scary. The waters aren’t always calm and you may not know what to do,” says Drew Daly. “But just keep swimming.”
It’s all about having a plan, the World Travel Holdings (WTH) senior vice president told attendees at the Dream Vacations/Cruise One annual conference onboard Celebrity Apex in November. And clearly, the WTH team that manages the franchising brands has been working on theirs.
In their first live conference in two years, they gathered 800 franchisees and travel advisors aboard one of the first US sailings of the beautiful Celebrity Apex for a week of ship inspections, education and Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been a busy couple of weeks for travel advisors. Everyone seems to be on the move again, checking out destinations and attending conferences, seeing friends after a long, long time. I’ve heard so many interesting comments about what’s going on the industry; here are some thoughts.
Last month’s Global Travel Collection conference featured a panel of Teen Family Influencers talking about what they found most memorable in their families’ jaunts around the world. The biggest takeaway: no two kids are the same, something travel advisors need to keep in mind when planning inter-generational trips. On the panel, Lucas likes “nature-oriented exploring,” such as the “scientific stuff” he heard during a tour of Pompeii; Benjamin likes to go Read the rest of this entry »
It’s a traveler’s dream vacation, and a travel advisor’s dream commission—even a sign of hope that one day soon the world will be open and the seas free to roam.
So, of course, Royal Caribbean’s announcement of its first-ever world cruise, the longest in the industry at 274 nights, made some headlines this past week. And for some travel advisors, it actually did get clients calling.
While some said it was too long (especially for customers with pets) and some said it was too expensive for the traditional RCCL cruiser, Royal Caribbean SVP Vicki Freed said that in just the first couple of days “hundreds of bookings have been created” as “people are moving their ‘bucket list’ trips into their ‘to do list’” and travel advisors tell me that indeed some categories are almost sold out.
The “Ultimate World Cruise,” sailing round-trip Miami on the mid-sized Serenade of the Seas beginning December 10, 2023, is broken down into four legs Read the rest of this entry »
You wouldn’t think that writing about luxury travel has much in common with selling luxury travel, but in fact it really does.
At least that’s my takeaway from an interesting and different kind of panel at the Global Travel Collection’s Elevate virtual conference last week—where, in addition to the usual roster of company executives and top suppliers, a panel of travel journalists talked about emerging trends in luxury travel. Like travel advisors, many of the journalists noted that the best way to cover travel—and to promote it—is to travel yourself, and to explain the details that go into a trip in the time of covid step by step.
Town & Country editor in chief Stellene Volandes noted that in her recent travels, the last day or two of every trip was consumed by conversations about passing the required tests to return home. Feeling carefree is such a big part of luxury, she said, but even when you revel in the experience of travel these days there’s a cloud of concern that “disrupts the cocoon that envelops luxury travelers. The moment a bit of chaos enters, you feel unsafe and it rattles people.”
For travel advisors, then, the key is to make the luxury travel experience “even smoother than ever. I want to feel like if I am stranded in an igloo someplace, like I can call an expert who can help me Read the rest of this entry »
Half the cruise ships are sailing, carrying half the passengers they once did. At each port, they are beset by differing and ever-changing protocols, negotiating life-and-death decisions with new players with whom they do not have the usual long-term relationships.
And yet, guest satisfaction is off the charts. The new-to-cruise customers that many expected to be frightened off are instead showing up. New ships and new partnerships, new terminals and new ports are on the horizon—and they promise to share the wealth with local communities and to promote a healthier environment for all.
“We built this industry over more than five decades; we deliver a phenomenal experience that our customers love, and the Caribbean is an unbelievably popular destination for our core markets,” said Royal Caribbean International president and CEO Michael Bayley at the Caribbean Spotlight: A Focus on the Future breakout session. “We need to just stay focused and trust each other and, in another year or so, we’ll be looking back trying not to remember any of this.”
In short, this week’s Seatrade Global conference was unlike any other Read the rest of this entry »
Bekah Eaton came home from ASTA’s annual conference with new ideas, new relationships, and a case of Covid. She believes she caught it from the woman who sat next to her for two hours. “I felt betrayed and almost angry that she would put me in harms way, and expose me without warning or anything.”
Another travel advisor, who asked to remain anonymous, was on a fam trip to Italy when she thanked the woman sitting next to her, whom she knew was opposed to vaccines, for getting vaccinated before the trip. “She went off on me about how she felt forced to get the vaccine—and that was very alienating in a small group atmosphere.”
Then she saw someone attending a FAM in Europe after being at an ASTA event where there were positive cases. “And I’m thinking, weren’t you in that room at ASTA with people who tested positive? Shouldn’t you be quarantining and not on this AMA cruise in Europe?”
Those experiences changed the way she sees those people. Read the rest of this entry »
(Caution: there’s some science and math ahead. But Norwegian solves the equation for you—and in so doing, offers a lot of hope for the future of selling cruises during a pandemic.)
Question: Is 100% really that much better than 95%?
It’s a math problem Norwegian Cruise Line has been tackling for months, and the result is a little painful.
When we set sail earlier this month on Norwegian Encore’s first post-Covid cruise to Alaska, many lamented that the strict vaccine mandate meant families with small children could not sail—a big loss for a family-friendly cruise company and its loyal customers and partners. Read the rest of this entry »
For customers looking for a unique destination they have not yet visited, AmaWaterways might just have the answer. Last week, it announced a new ship sailing a new river in a new continent to the Ama repertoire.
Colombia’s Magdalena River will host a partnership between Ama and Metropolitan Touring, known and well-respected by many travel advisors for its Galapagos and South America tours, aboard the brand-new AmaMagdalena in time for the holidays in December 2023.
On a press conference via webinar today, the two companies shared their excitement at having found one another, and in bringing the first luxury river cruises to the region. Just “two or three hours” from Florida, the Magdalena River offers beautiful scenery, diverse nature, and the second-largest Carnival in the world. (Also, the world’s best chocolate and best coffee, “and some really good rum,” says Metropolitan Touring’s Francisco Dousdebes.)
“It is the prime river in Latin America,” asserted Ama’s ever-cautious new destination seeker, co-founder and president Rudi Schreiner, who has been scouting “the whole area from Argentina to Read the rest of this entry »