Agent Issues Marketers discuss ways to capture smart, savvy consumers By Michelle Baran / November 09, 2012 Share 1 -- FORT LAUDERDALE -- If used effectively, loyalty and referral programs can help travel sellers keep and grow their business, cruise and hotel executives advised a room full of travel professionals at Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld and Home Based Agent Show. "Your best customer is your repeat customer," said Chris Austin, vice president of global retail, leisure and luxury sales for Starwood Hotels and Resorts. Austin advised retailers to take advantage of supplier loyalty programs by managing their clients' points and upgrades to their commissionable advantage. For example, he recommended helping clients get upgrades or moving their points into an airline program rather than having them use them for a free night at a hotel. That is one way to keep business. And in order to help agents grow their business, Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and services for Royal Caribbean International, emphasized the importance of having a referral program for clients that recommend their agent to other clients. "If you don't have a referral, rewards or an appreciation program, it's something to think about," said Freed. The six-member panel, which also included Mark Kammerer, senior vice president of marketing and North America sales for Holland America Line; Joni Reid, vice president of worldwide sales for Carnival Cruise Lines; Andy Stuart, executive vice president of global sales and passenger services for Norwegian Cruise Line; and Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president of sales, trade support and services for Celebrity Cruises, discussed the increasing complexity of consumer behavior in a digital age. The challenge, according to Kammerer, was not just reaching the consumer but how to reach the consumer with their preferred form of communication. Maybe one consumer needs a phone call, another just wants to be texted and yet another doesn't want to be bothered much at all, he suggested. "The ability to engage with customers is really exciting now," said Norwegian's Stuart, a fan of social media. "The challenge is that everyone wants to engage in a different way." Ritzenthaler added that consumers are "way smarter today than they ever were before." And the task retailers are faced with is great. "What you do every day never ceases to amaze me," said Rein, acknowledging the hurdles travel sellers face today. But Ritzenthaler offered a seemingly simple solution: just outsmart the consumer. "It is important that we partner with you to help you become the expert," she said. "You have to become even smarter." Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.