f you owned an established travel
agency in the shadow of the corporate headquarters of Intel, E-Bay, Oracle and Yahoo during the
high-tech boom of the 1990s, it would seem that you were in the
right place at the right time.
Bill Knight, president of All Cruise Travel, has been selling
cruises in the San Jose, Calif., area since 1988. And he certainly
saw growth during the tech boom years -- among his less-affluent
clients were administrative assistants pulling down $100,000 per
In the new millennium, he watched as the local and national
economies stalled, but saw even greater opportunity than had
existed before. Odd as it may sound, last year was his best year
ever. Knight finds he can accomplish things that simply weren't
possible when Silicon Valley was red-hot and the cruise industry
was in its pre-9/11 growth mode.
Case in point: He put together a $1.2 million group cruise last
year, selling about 200 of the Crystal Harmony's 470-plus cabins on
a San Francisco-Alaska sailing in the early months of the year.
This feat would have been impossible to pull off in the late
1990s in the Bay Area. Knight knows, because he tried.
Knight's a great believer in the power of radio. Not generic
radio advertising -- he thinks that's a waste of money -- but in
having on-air personalities do in-agency broadcasts ("live
remotes") to help him promote specific offers.
When he first approached the radio stations with the idea, they
were so flush with dot-com advertising dollars that they couldn't
be bothered to listen to his ideas, even though he was willing to
pay for airtime.
"Today they're pounding on my door," Knight said. And in some
cases, he doesn't have to pay -- the stations are willing to accept
a revenue-sharing agreement.
Knight's concept is to match a cruise line's passenger
demographics with a radio station's listener demographics, then
find an on-air personality who also would appeal to them. To create
his $1.2 million group, he matched the profile of the Harmony's
guests with listeners to classical music stations and stations
playing music from "the Frank Sinatra era."
To seal the deal, he engaged a well-known local radio
food-and-wine critic, who also would be aboard the ship.
When he first approached Crystal, the line was interested in
what he was doing, and provided modest assistance, but wanted to
see how well he delivered before committing serious resources.
"Their attitude was friendly, but the message I heard was, 'Let's
see how you do.' "
Once he demonstrated how successful his approach was, Crystal
ended up picking up about half of his costs the second time
"My Crystal district sales manager was great," Knight said. "He
helped arrange co-op dollars, special rates, collateral
In addition, Crystal helped arrange special onboard programs --
wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, Q&A sessions with the
chef and captain.
His on-air personality -- the food-and-wine critic -- joins him
for live remote segments in his agency, where they talk about the
features of the cruise, and listeners can phone in questions
(Knight also has interviewed Adam Leavitt, Crystal's senior vice
president of marketing, during a call-in show). Between interviews
and answering questions, Knight offers discounts that are available
only during a particular broadcast to help close bookings
He'll do the remotes with as many Bay Area stations as are
willing to deal with him, as long as their listeners are in the
right demographic range.
"People are afraid of flying, and the increased focus on
homeport cruises since 9/11 has also made this possible," he said,
noting that he has more choices of sailings from San Francisco than
he would have had two years ago.
Last year, he put together five groups, two with Crystal, two
with Radisson Seven Seas and one with Holland America.
He has another five planned for 2003, expanding his base and
working with Princess, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean ("Oldies and
'80s rock stations," he said). He concedes that "this is an odd
year," but he's optimistic nonetheless.
"By March, I had already booked about $750,000 for a July
Crystal sailing. But I stopped doing the remotes once the war
began," he said. "I have plans to start it up again May 5, and I
have a strong feeling it will do well."
Before he took over the agency, Knight had worked in the field
of electronics. Though he was in the heart of Silicon Valley, he
felt there was more opportunity in selling cruises than there was
in a technical field.
I asked him if, during the dot-com heyday, he ever regretted
leaving his former profession. "Daily," he replied with a
And, it should be noted that it is Knight who is still