More agents onboard for National Cruise Vacation Week

By Tom Stieghorst
About 44% of CLIA’s 16,000 travel agent members are participating in some way in next week’s National Cruise Vacation Week, an annual fall sale to generate cruise bookings.

At least 7,000 agencies will be involved, a 10% improvement compared with 2011.

The event, which runs through Oct. 28, evolved from National Cruise Vacation Day. It helps agents put business on the books in what can be a slow sales period, said CLIA President Christine Duffy.

Christine DuffyLast year, 6,300 agents made about $55 million in cruise bookings during the week, earning about $7 million in commissions. Agents can host events or mount websites to showcase savings offers from 25 cruise suppliers. CLIA contributes promotional tools and a consumer publicity campaign.

“National Cruise Vacation Week is an important benefit provided by CLIA and our member cruise lines,” Duffy said.

This year, events run the gamut from simple get-togethers at public libraries and condo recreation centers to a gala evening at a Fort Lauderdale Mercedes-Benz dealership.

Cruise Planners at Sea started early with an Oct. 11 cruise night at a community center, said Kathleen Peters, vice president at the Orlando-area agency. It included door prizes, contests and refreshments.

Peters used the night to build interest in the agency’s social media pages. Anyone who “liked” the agency’s Facebook page was entered into a drawing for a free cruise.

The featured cruise of the evening was a June Alaska voyage on Princess Cruises. It could be booked at reduced fares, and with a deposit of only $100 rather than 20% of the fare. A $325 onboard credit was part of the offer.

“For those who couldn’t come, we did a virtual event for Alaska, as well,” Peters said.

CLIA said about 1,300 agencies are doing some kind of live event during National Cruise Vacation Week. More than 4,200 of the 5,560 events tracked by CLIA are virtual and involve a custom website.

CLIA provided an electronic template with space to personalize a message and a screen for up to seven videos supplied by CLIA or the cruise lines.

Peters used blast-faxes and the agency’s Facebook page to publicize the mini-site.

Cruise lines participating in National Cruise Vacation Week range from Ama Waterways ($1,000 savings per cabin and a $250 onboard credit) to Windstar (two-for-one cruise fares plus two free hotel nights in Europe).

Disney Cruise Lines is using National Cruise Vacation Week to promote new sailings out of Miami this winter. Carnival Cruise Lines is dangling $200 cash back and 50% reduced deposits for select sailings through December 2013.

Vicki Freed 2012One issue for National Cruise Vacation Week is breaking through the steady drumbeat of current cruise promotions. Last week, Royal Caribbean International held a three-day Wow sale, one of three such sales it has scheduled this year.

Bookings during Royal’s Oct.15-17 event qualified for up to $200 in onboard credits and 50% reduced deposits. Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean International’s senior vice president of sales, said dates for the Wow sale were set well in advance, and there was no intent to pre-empt the CLIA promotion.

Heather Morris, owner of Onederland Travel in Lancaster, Pa., said she was using the Cruise Vacation Week promotions for live and virtual audiences. She planned to distribute flyers at a Chamber of Commerce business expo this week.

She also plans to highlight a deal from a different cruise line each day on her website. Also opting for the virtual sale was Gail Sinito, owner of GTS Vacations in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. “I’m just going to go viral with it,” Sinito said. “I’m listing the offers and will email my clients.”

Sinito said she gets her most effective leads through word of mouth. She said events she has organized in the past, such as a promotion to raise funds for a local food bank, were not that effective.

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly. 
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