Cruise Officals Coach Trade on Selling Europe Sailings

By Jennifer Dorsey

GLASGOW, Scotland -- The expansion of the European cruise market presents agents with a great opportunity to earn big commissions and deliver client satisfaction, according to five cruise executives who participated in a panel discussion here at the ASTA World Travel Congress.

"Cruise lines are deploying more and more tonnage in these markets. There is quite a selection not only in the destination but in the choice of products," said Rick James senior vice president of sales and corporate relations for Princess Cruises and chairman of Cruise Lines International Association.

Here are some thoughts from those five executives for agents interested in selling European cruises:

* Know the Product. Gaye Stewart-Loudis, director of Canadian and National sales for Royal Caribbean, said many agents lack extensive knowledge of Europe, so agents owners and managers should get their agents up to speed on the region and the cruise lines operating there. Assigning destination specialties within the agency is one way; Giving agents "geography tests" is another, she said. It is especially important that agents be able to match wits with their clients, Stewart-Loudis said, given that travelers these days tend to do a lot of destination research on their own. "If your people are knowledgeable about the product you will get the clients," she said.

* Know the Product, Part II. Does the client want an American-style on-board experience or a European one? In response to a question from an agent, the panelists indicated that the delivery varies among the different cruise lines. James, for example, said Princess brings the North American cruise to the European market. It is very difficult to provide a mixed product delivery to a variety of clients and deliver across-the-board satisfaction, he said. William Smith president of Silversea Cruises, said he wants to provide a foreign flavor. "I want to take the guy from Omaha and given him an international experience," Smith said. Stewart-Loudis said Royal Caribbean is "right in the middle," offering "refinements such as shows with European singers and wine lists with more European than California wines."

* Know the Client. With "fellow cruisers" such a key element of the on-board experience, it is "incredibly important for agents to match the customer to the right ship," Patrice Willoughby, Cunard's vice president of sales for the Americas, said. There is a great variety of European cruise options on the market today, so agents should be able to frame their discussions to sell to anyone from the novice cruiser, or the person who has never visited Europe to the experienced European FIT clients, she suggested. It can be pointed out for example, that a European cruise provides a better overview of the region than a motorcoach tour, with a "huge comfort and security factor," for customers who have never traveled there. And for Europe FIT veterans, there are cruise products that allow for a very "unstructured environment" where they can do their own thing, Willoughby said.

* Sell Year-round. "Do not think of Europe as being a seasonal cruise destination" open only in June, July and August, Bjarne Mikkelson, president and owner of EuroCruises, a cruise-tour operator, said. He cited Malta, Gibralter, Dubrovnik and the Canary Islands as examples of cruise destinations that can be enjoyed in other seasons, enabling the more cost-conscious passengers to take advantage of low fares.

* Know the Trends. The European cruise market is a big one for repeat business, William Smith, president of Silversea Cruises, advised. The volume of clients wanting to go back for more is generating consumer demand to explore new destinations, whether it is an exotic port on the heel of Italy or the fjords of the North Sea, he said. The good news is that this is pushing cruise lines to become more "innovative and creative" with their itineraries, he said.

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