Lines roll out incentives for National Cruise Vacation Week

By Tom Stieghorst

Travel agents have a flood of special cruise offers to entice customers this week, the third annual National Cruise Vacation Week.

Organized by CLIA, the week generated some $55 million in cruise sales and $7 million in commissions for agents when it was launched two years ago.

This year's National Cruise Vacation Week may benefit from a marketing tailwind created by Carnival Cruise Lines' unusual $25 million fall advertising campaign that should raise awareness of cruising generally.

Cruise lines have minted scores of promotions for the week, offering reduced deposits, coupon books for onboard spending, free cabin upgrades and extra-low prices on select sailings.

Agent groups have jumped aboard with additional offers exclusive to their networks.

Cruise Planners, for example, has a $50 onboard credit for select Norwegian Cruise Line sailings, in addition to the cruise line's more broadly available offers, such as a $250 credit and reduced deposit for summer 2014 cruises.

Many agents offer the specials by putting together a mini-website with the National Cruise Vacation template, which provides space for up to four cruise line promotions.

Or they can organize special events that draw people into their agency or other locations for more personal networking.

Rich Skinner, a Seattle-area Cruise Holidays franchisee, is holding an open house on Oct. 23 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. that will also serve as a wine tasting. Four or five wines will each carry the name of a different cruise line.

"Because we're sitting out here in the middle of Washington wine country, it makes sense to do that," Skinner said.

During the business part of the get-together, Skinner will highlight trends for 2014, including river cruise growth, new ocean-going ships and new itineraries. Skinner said he does eight to 10 in-store events a year at his agency, Cruise Holidays of Woodinville.

"That's one of my most effective marketing tools," he said.

The fall CLIA event has grown from a single night to a week in the past few years, and some agents and cruise lines extend their specials beyond that. Cruise Planners is taking the whole month of October to promote various specials.

The network expects to take in nearly $20 million in revenue for October, up 69% from two years ago, spokeswoman Caitlin Murphy said.

"We encourage our 800-plus franchise travel advisers to host 'cruise nights' or virtual, online events during this campaign, and we support our agents with digital, Web and traditional marketing tools with this year's 'Taste of Travel' theme," Murphy said.

This year, Cruise Planners is also offering something extra to pull customers into National Cruise Vacation Week. They can enter a drawing to win $1,000 for each cruise they book in October. Murphy said the incentive has no cost to the travel agent.

"Many of our travel advisers appreciate this perk, as the value doesn't take away from their commissions," she said.

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.

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