FORT LAUDERDALE — Getting cruise lines to pay attention to your individual problems as an agent can be tough, especially for home-based agents, according to Marc Mancini, a visiting professor at Shanghai Maritime University.

Mancini led a panel discussion titled “Cultivating Supplier Relationships” with three travel agents on Friday at Travel Weekly’s CruiseWorld conference here.

2013CruiseWorld_logoMancini said suppliers used to visit when brick-and-mortar storefronts dominated the agency scene. “Even the airlines did it,” he recalled.

Now, between phones, texts and e-mails, agents can go months without ever seeing their business development manager (BDM).

“The home-based agent movement has changed the game for us,” Mancini said.

John Hicks, marketing director at Casa Blanca Great Escapes Travel, in Killeen, Texas, said a common problem is when BDMs don’t return phone calls. Hicks said it is up to the agent to develop a relationship that doesn’t get to that point, and that agents can’t be confrontational when trying to prod BDMs into a callback.

At the same time, suppliers “have to have your interest at heart because we are the ones selling their products,” Hicks said.

Geoff Millar, co-owner of Ultimate All-Inclusive Travel in Phoenix, said sometimes relations with a particular BDM just don’t jell. “One of the suppliers I was so excited to work with. They are my worst supplier relationship.” Millar said. After trying to “romance” the BDM for almost a year, Millar concluded it was never going to change.

“I work with her boss if I really need something,” Millar said.

Marc ManciniMancini said the hard reality is that BDMs are often on the road “visiting five states worth of agencies.” He said sometimes agents can cultivate relations with an inside sales rep at the cruise line’s headquarters if they never get attention from their regional BDM.

Jason Olson said he bought a 25-year-old agency, Cruise Holidays of Redding, Ca., about a year ago after a tech career in Silicon Valley. He brought with him the tech sector’s business habits and expectations.

He said he shocked his BDM by turning down a fam trip on a ship. “I had already been on four cruises,” he said. “Here is my plan for growth,” he told the BDM. “If you’d like to partner with us, you can.”

Olson said the result was a higher starting commission rate than he expected and $10,000 in marketing funds.

The lesson, Mancini said, is to “show professionalism quickly. There’s always this perception that there are a lot of travel agents who aren’t real.”

View a video recap of Day 3 of CruiseWorld.

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