From purser to agent

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Unusual access to the inner circle at cruise lines, as well as out-of-the-ordinary knowledge of ships -- these qualities are what Dan and Choyce Chappelle, co-owners of The Cruise Shoppe of Austin, Texas, said they use to lure new customers.

Dan and Choyce Chappelle in pursurer garb.The agency's promotional materials all prominently feature the fact that both worked on board Royal Caribbean ships for five years -- Choyce as chief purser, Dan as second purser.

This experience "gave me the best education I could have to be doing what we're doing now," said Dan. And that education does pay off in getting and retaining clients. For example, there was the time a potential incentive client, Dell Computer, was doing a site inspection on a Royal Caribbean ship.

In search of the royal suite, the Royal Caribbean salesperson leading the tour opened the door of an ordinary cabin instead. Chappelle then took charge, leading the group straight to the royal suite. "When [the Dell Computer rep] saw that we knew our way around the ship, it was a done deal," said Chappelle.

The Cruise Shoppe sells other cruise lines besides Royal Caribbean, though -- and again uses its knowledge of shipboard protocol to aid clients. "I'll even call the sales department of some cruise lines when the res agent will swear to me that what I want [such as audiovisual service for incentive groups] can't be done -- when I know it can be, since as a purser, I was the one who was doing it before," said Chappelle.

The Cruise Shoppe's promotional message, though, has drawn rage from agents around the country because it includes this line: "As pursers, we noticed the majority of the passenger problems and complaints were not the fault of the cruise line -- but that of the travel agent!"

Chappelle explained that when he was a purser, he found passengers would say their agents had promised upgrades and amenities that he couldn't deliver.

He conceded that agents have become more knowledgeable about the cruise product. "They've had to, since they've been forced into selling more cruises because of the airline caps."

Tips on ships

The Cruise Shoppe features nautical decor.For the most efficient and profitable cruise sales, specialize in just a couple of different cruise lines -- five, tops. That's the advice Dan Chappelle, co-owner of The Cruise Shoppe of Austin, Texas, would give you.

Once you've made your choices, it's time to learn each of the company's ships -- and Chappelle, a former purser for Royal Caribbean, knows some ways to ease this task:

  • You don't have to remember 20 different ships if you learn to look for similarities among all the vessels in a fleet.
  • For example, most cruise lines build their ships in series or "classes." For Royal Caribbean, there are the Sovereign, Vision and new Eagle class ships.

    Carnival is primarily the Fantasy class.

    Most details of the deck plan are virtually the same on each ship in the series; what changes is the decor.

  • To keep cabin configurations straight, realize that while there may be 20 different categories, these actually boil down to three or four different cabin types, excluding the suites: standard inside and outside rooms, and larger or deluxe oceanview rooms -- one without a balcony and one with a balcony.
  • Cabin amenities such as hair dryers and safes also tend to be the same for all ships within a series.
  • To pick up more hints, you could call Chappelle, who's developing a consulting business to teach cruise sales techniques, at (512) 328-7447, or e-mail him at [email protected].

    Appropriate Questions

    Dan McManus.What are the questions I cannot ask during an interview with a potential employee?

    While most agency managers understand there are limitations regarding the questions they can ask relative to race, age, sex and marital status, few realize that it doesn't end there. A variety of questions that are considered "out of bounds" also could become grounds for a future lawsuit based on discrimination in your hiring practices.

    Consider the following questions: Do you take prescription medication? Can you remember how many days you were sick during the past year? Are you now, or have you ever been, treated for drug abuse?

    Which one is illegal to ask? All of them. And, unfortunately, ignorance is not an excuse under the law. Innocently ask one of these questions, and job candidates may have grounds to receive a monetary settlement from you if they are not hired.

    The best policy is to develop a standard set of interview questions and stick to them. Be sure that any other employee who does interviewing or hiring understands the laws and the exposure your business has.

    One of my employees wears clothes I think are too revealing. Can I ask her not to wear them?

    Absolutely. You are allowed to specify a dress code in your agency as long as it reasonably accommodates religious attire and doesn't discriminate among employees. For example, you can't insist that women have a dress code but not men. However, you can have minor differences between men's and women's dress codes (such as women are allowed to wear earrings and men aren't).

    The best way to handle this situation is to circulate a memo to all employees, announcing the dress code and giving examples of acceptable and unacceptable clothing.

    Former agency owner Dan McManus is the publisher of the newsletter, The Successful Worldspan Agent. Contact him at [email protected].

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