Aboard the Crystal Symphony: The recession's lessons

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Cruise editor Johanna Jainchill is onboard the Crystal Symphony for Crystal's 20th annual Top Producers Gala. The ship is cruising the British Isles and Ireland. Her first dispatch follows.

Crystal Cruises executives reminded its top-producing travel agents that while the recession might be technically over, they should not forget the business lessons the downturn taught them.

"Don’t let the recession go to waste," said Bill Smith, Crystal’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. "When the market is really good and business is good, you get lazy.

The recession taught you to stay in touch with people — you learn that when business is down. Don’t forget that and let the lessons of the recession and your approach to the way you do business go away. You must continue to practice what got you though the recession and made you successful."

Smith said that all of the agents onboard changed their business model and were successful during the biggest economic downturn since the Great Recession.

They had to in order to earn a cabin here. Crystal’s top producers had to do at least $500,000 in business for the line during 2009, a remarkable achievement considering that Crystal's passenger volume that year was down 30% over 2008.

In recent years, the production bar was set at $750,000 in sales. Smith said the line lowered the bar, citing dismal 2009 sales.

Seventy-five travel agents qualified.

"If you were successful [in 2009], you did something different to survive," said Smith. "It’s scary to me to see agents going back to the way they were doing business before."

Smith said agents needed to continue to communicate with their clients and create relationships, while always focusing on the value of the product.

Smith said Crystal did the same thing.

"We started talking to people more," he said. "I was on road last year more than ever. We stayed in better contact, we sent out more direct mail pieces. We got on Facebook and got in touch with the marketplace in new ways. We are still doing that today."

Smith and Crystal President Gregg Michel also reminded travel agents that despite indications of improvement — Crystal’s revenue is up 30% this year and bookings have rebounded by 35%, with 2011 revenue already trending 15% better than 2010 — consumer confidence is still low and market volatility is a concern.

Michel said concerns about the stock market, the oil spill, air strikes and volcanic ash are still on consumers' minds.

"Technically, we are out of the recession," said Michel. "But I think there is so much uncertainty out there that we don’t have a fully-functioning consumer economy.

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