oing ashore has many meanings. To a
number of agents, it means customized excursions that yield
additional earnings for the agency while providing more trip
satisfaction to cruise customers.
The concept is not exactly new. Ask Meg McGriff North, executive
vice president of Brownell Travel in Birmingham, Ala., who said any
"true consultant" with experience and connections has long been
offering special land arrangements to discerning travelers.
What is new, or relatively so, at Brownell and other Virtuoso
agencies, she said, is access at Virtuoso.net to a database of exclusive shore
excursions created by the trade group for sale by its member
North can access a selection of options in ports as far-flung as
Santiago, Chile; Sitka, Alaska; and Sydney, Australia.
She may sell by the old-fashioned methods, across a desk or over
the phone, but North also can e-mail choices to clients for ease in
She then e-mails the ground operator -- one of the partners in a
worldwide Virtuoso network -- the date of the booking, client names
and other details.
The program was rolled out more than three years ago, but as
overseas suppliers have seen agents using it for bookings, "the
depth of the program has grown," North said. (Virtuoso said the
program now encompasses other private sightseeing and FIT
Itineraries can be fairly similar to what all ship passengers
are offered, but the differences are the private transfers in
air-conditioned comfort and the chance to travel as a couple or in
a small, private group, North said. The trips offer
English-speaking drivers and expert guides, she said.
The Virtuoso itineraries also can be much more specialized than
standard tours. As an example, clients can go behind the scenes at
the Sydney Opera House for an opportunity to watch a working
rehearsal, meet the stars and tour the facility, followed by tea at
the opera house.
In another example, North said one of "the coolest" trips is a
visit to the ancient Etruscan Tombs outside Rome, which, she said,
"no cruise line is going to offer" because it is so
Sometimes, North -- an FIT specialist -- simply arranges for a
car and driver to be available to clients who don't want or need a
specific sightseeing program.
Special itineraries cost clients double, triple or quadruple
(depending on the number of travelers) a standard shore
So, what is the pitch? North said her selling points are
features noted above: the expert private guide -- whom "clients can
hear" -- the small size of the group, the comfort of the
transportation plus, most of all, the vastly more enriching
And what is the return for the agency? North said it is "not
huge," but she sees it as part of the overall return on selling the
cruise itself. Nevertheless, the pay on the Virtuoso shore programs
averages a respectable 10%, North said.
Besides, she added, depending on how much time the agent has had
to spend concluding a booking, the agent might add a "set-up fee"
to supplement the commissions.
-- Nadine Godwin
Enriching clients and your agency
rownell Travel is a $55 million
Virtuoso agency with four locations in Alabama. It is common
practice among the 30 (out of 70 total) staffers in Brownell's
leisure division to offer customized shore excursions to cruise
North, the agency's executive vice president, said she understands
that making the extra effort to go outside a cruise line's
land-tour offerings can be daunting, especially to retailers who
are not well connected to overseas ground operators or are
relatively new in the business.
As a result, they are missing an opportunity to boost earnings
and provide customer satisfaction.
North offered a few suggestions, as follows:
• Start small. If you are knowledgeable about attractions and
service providers in one or a few locations, offer specialized
options in those ports, working only with suppliers you know and
are comfortable with. "Sell to your strong suit," North said.
• Take advantage of destination-specialist training programs to
gather intelligence on products and service providers with shore
excursions in mind.
• Also, take another look at programs offered by your consortium
or franchiser, again with shore excursions in mind. Identify
relevant suppliers or sources the group has tapped as trustworthy
• Charge service fees or price the excursions so you are
adequately compensated for your labors. In addition, if you are
paying for trips in a foreign currency, consider charging clients a
fee for that service, too.
North said that in her experience, settlement with overseas
providers tends to be of two types:
If the supplier is a credit card merchant, the customer can pay
with the card and the agency collects commissions from the
supplier. Alternatively, unless the customer pays cash, the agency
can be the merchant. In either case, the agency remits net to the
All payment systems have costs (tracking commissions to ensure
collection or the card merchant fees, for example) that also must
be taken into account for calculating charges to the client.
• Finally, for non-ARC agencies, North suggested affiliating
with a Virtuoso agency, which would give access to the database of
custom shore excursions that Virtuoso creates for its members.
"We are always looking for excellent agents to sell [Virtuoso
products]," North said. -- N.G.
t's been a (great) dog's life
for Beryl at Academy Travel in Colorado Springs, Colo. Last year,
office manager Nancy Heck volunteered to provide a foster home for
a puppy on behalf of a philanthropic organization in Santa Rosa,
Calif., called Canine Companions for Independence.
The California organization breeds puppies -- all labradors,
golden retrievers or mixes of the two -- to be service companions
to humans who are deaf or have other disabilities.
Heck said she was enticed to volunteer after hearing on the
radio about the program and the "desperate need" for
So Heck brought Beryl, a yellow labrador, to Colorado Springs last
June, when the puppy was about 8 weeks old.
Beryl came to the office every day, effectively becoming the
Heck's responsibilities, besides providing affection, included
teaching basic obedience and about 30 simple commands, and, she
said, colleagues at Academy Travel all "loved Beryl," too, and
helped with training and reinforcing the basic training.
The dog greeted clients and was "such a happy spot for us in the
office and for clients coming in" right after Sept. 11, a time of
great stress, Heck said.
By August, it was time for Beryl to move on, and Heck returned
her to Canine Companions for six months of advanced training.
She said there is a 38% success rate in training the dogs, which
means Beryl might be deselected.
When a dog does not pass muster, the puppy-raiser gets first
dibs on the dog, and Heck said she will exercise her option.
However, if Beryl is in the top third of her class, Heck will
travel to California for her "graduation" in late winter -- and
make plans to take on another puppy at the beginning of summer.