Despite any cliches of wimpiness that might cling to the term "new
age," Dianne Billings, whose agency specializes in these kinds of
trips, also is a clear-headed businesswoman.
So when she discussed the Inner Voyage cruise she's been selling
since 1991, Billings was quick to note that this product helps her
avoid price-driven cruise shoppers.
With a full program of
on-board presentations from holistic experts, "I have a value-added
product," she said. "We have a markup of $500 to $900 above the
cruise line's price, and people pay that without complaining."
Billings, owner of Dreamtime Cruises and Tours in Casselberry,
Fla., sees her specialty as "my way of combining my career with my
Her "eclectic" spiritual interests have ranged from intuition
and past lives to alternative medicine. As a single mother of two
teenage daughters, she is happy to find practices that help promote
"inner peace" and the knack of "not taking things too
Billings, working with the Inner Voyage, the company that
coordinates the speakers for the Inner Voyage cruises, is expanding
her repertoire to include land packages to destinations such as
Bali, Peru, Egypt, Tibet and Sedona, Ariz.
She also will pay a $150 referral fee (on cruise prices that
average $1,500 per person, double) to any travel agent who sends
clients on the latest Inner Voyage cruise, scheduled for March 5 to
12 on a western Caribbean gig on Costa Cruises' CostaVictoria.
The agenda includes daily yoga, tai-chi and qui gong classes;
vegetarian meals, and workshops with the likes of Sarah Ban
Breathnach, author of the best-selling book "Simple Abundance: A
Daybook of Comfort and Joy"; Larry Dossey, M.D., an authority on
alternative medicine whose latest book is "Reinventing Medicine,"
and Bob Greene, co-author of "Make the Connection," the book that
detailed Oprah Winfrey's exercise secrets.
A big benefit of this cruise: "People bond really quickly," said
Billings. "If an agent has one woman who's interested, you can tell
her, 'There's nobody alone for long. You make friends instantly in
a group like this.' "
Phone: (800) 546-7871.
How to conference
Booking cruise conferences can be a good group specialty,
according to Dianne Billings, owner of Dreamtime Cruises and Tours,
Casselberry, Fla. Here are her tips on how to do it well:
l Know the difference between a true affinity group and a
promotional group. The Inner Voyage cruise that Billings books is
the latter, which requires massive advertising (full-page ads in
special-interest consumer magazines Yoga Journal and New Age
Journal) because she's targeted a group of people with common
interests and no other bond.
True affinity groups, of course, are
easier to deal with -- frequently you can handle all your business
with one call to a group leader.
l Look for a cruise line that's sensitive to your group and its
particular needs. Some lines are easier to deal with than others,
said Billings, who has sampled several but now prefers Costa: "I've
done eight groups with them. I've got a track record. They know
what I need, and they want to keep my business," she said.
"You have to be able to tell the line, 'I'm going to need so
many public rooms at these particular hours.' Some will tell you at
the last minute what they're going to give you, which doesn't
"Others require all names 90 days before sailing, while Costa
knows I'm still matching people with roommates and moving them
around 30 days out. They know it's the nature of the beast that
some things are last minute."
Get referrals from many sources. For the Inner Voyage cruise,
"we have speakers promoting it, and we also give referral
commissions to previous cruisers," said Billings.Racing the client to the finish line
There's a new generation of travelers headed our way who will
wait about as long for an itinerary as they wait for their double
To keep up with the baby boomers, we have to learn how to use
the Internet to deliver information that is far more specific than
what we once provided. We have to contend with the fact that
clients, through the Internet, can peek inside hotel rooms and see
the view from the bridge of a cruise ship sailing into Charlotte
Amalie, St. Thomas.
question boils down to: How do we get our customers information
before they find it themselves?
It is time, I believe, to add a new title to the lexicon, that
of Internet research specialist. Your specialist might be a high
school student working part-time or a retired computer executive
(more and more available since the average retirement age in
Silicon Valley is about 27).
But all your agents should be able to produce weather reports,
restaurant reviews and detailed hotel information within minutes of
a client's request.
Your job is no longer selling travel. Your job is producing such
a high level of personalized information to your clients that they
feel compelled to use your services.
Richard Turen is an industry consultant and travel agency
E-mail him at [email protected].