Top Cruise Sellers Give their Best Advice for Selling Group Cruises to Home Based Travel Agents
Group cruise sales can become a lucrative business for home based travel agents, but you have to do your homework. That means you need to relate both to the potential group and the particular cruise line, and carefully formulate your budget and pricing model. What are the best ways to sell cruise groups? We asked top agents and cuisse executives for their advice to home based travel agents on the best practices for successful group sales.
Lee Welling, Director of group Marketing, Liberty Travel
Be sure to be knowledgeable of, and keep current with, group booking policies for each cruise line. Find out how long you can hold onto your group allotment before confirmation and payments are due. Are deposits required? Is there a limit to the number of groups you can book with a given time period?
Michelle Fee, CTC,
Do a "needs assessment" on your group lead. It's important to make sure you are matching the group and cruise product appropriately. Be aware that they may not always know what to ask for. They will depend on you as their "group specialist" to know what facilities are available on the various ships and which of these facilities will particularly appeal to them. For example, if it's a group of web programmers, make sure it's a ship with a good Internet connection.
Leverage your existing client base. Ask these clients if they have family reunions or corporate events and ask. "How about doing those on a cruise?"
Prospect for groups. Identify affinity group types in your area via networking and research. Look at clubs an associations, religious groups, ethnic groups, businesses. Consider the cruise products that would appeal to them, and then start working on your pitch.
Organize an event and invite local group leaders to attend.
Advertise in local newspapers or newsletters (PTA, church flyer, garden club, condo association, etc). Sell yourself. It's important to communicate effectively the benefits of working with you.
Get vendor sponsorship on promotions for your groups (co-op cruise events/presentations, ship inspections/luncheons, etc). Customize your groups to make them "value added" and sell the experience. Include a shore excursion, alternative dining experience, and maybe arrange a personalized cooking class in a specific port of call.
Caroline Hay, Product Manager, Thomas Cook
Don't be afraid of group sales. The biggest pitfall in beginning to sell group cruise bookings is fear. It can be overwhelming. There's a big tendency to say, "Oh my gosh, I can't do this." But it can be the same amount of work to book three people at 30.
Establish pricing and stick to it. Avoid giving away the house and going off plan. Figure in all marketing and incentive costs and make sure you're making a profit. Group sales can be very profitable, but you have to keep an eye on the revenue.
Develop an effective marketing strategy. If you don't market it, it won't sell.
Take advantage of the group training and assistance available from major cruise lines. They can help you with amenity points an the category of accommodations to select. Take advantage of CLIA group sales training. http://www.homebased-travelagents.com/training.htm
Give yourself enough time for the planning and the sales. For large groups (average size between 30 and 40 cabins), plan six to eight months in advance. Common-interest groups are much easier to close and the best option for a single branch. Speculative groups are best booked as a block that several branches can access.
Develop a theme for your cruise that sets you apart (jazz, dance, film festival, food and wine, 911 cruise for police and firemen). Establish a link with a local celebrity--a DJ or weatherman, perhaps with a charity link.
Rick Meadows, Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Holland America Line
Let potential group leaders know what types of extras you can provide. Holland America's Group Advantage Program allows agents to offer extra amenities such as dinner at the Pinnacle Grill specialty restaurant, massages at The Greenhouse Spa, monogrammed bathrobes, wine packages, cocktail parties, and free tour-conductor credits.
Target affinities such as culinary groups. Holland America's program fur culinary groups allows agents to book Culinary Arts Centers on its ships for two one-hour sessions.
Capitalize on an interest in food and wine by partnering with a chef or owner of a restaurant, a winemaker or manager of a wine store. Send promotional flyers to their mailing lists as well as your own