Small is beautiful. 

And profitable. 

Insight Paul Gauguin Cruises is about to launch its second ship, the 90-passenger Tere Moana, at the end of the year. It will be sailing the Caribbean, Europe and South America. The Tere Moana is sold out through March. 

Discounting is not in Paul Gauguin’s vocabulary. The market is there, and nobody else offers what it does. 

Paul Gauguin has been sailing one ship, the 330-passenger Paul Gauguin, in the idyllic waters of French Polynesia for 14 years. The privately held company has figured out its product and perfected it. Its customers love it. But you can only sail paradise so many times, and Paul Gauguin’s customers told the line that they want to sail other parts of the world with it. So the cruise line acquired the Tere Moana, redid it and now can fill its new ship by tapping into a pool of past passengers. And it’s probably going to attract new customers to the Tere Moana who will then want to sail the Paul Gauguin. 

Sea Dream Yacht Club is another small-ship operator, with two, 112-passenger ships. Want to make a commission of $40,000 or $50,000 on a single sailing: Book a kosher bat or bar mitzvah, wedding or family reunion aboard Sea Dream. The Sea Dream ships have two kitchens; it can kosher them, and it can have separate sets of dishes. That's an offering that would be tough to replicate on a big ship -- it's just too big.  

Being small doesn't mean you can't negotiate with giants. In fact, it sometimes can give you an advantage. The head of sales for one major cruise line, who had also worked for an airline, said that sometimes agencies can do better negotiating with an airline for space and fares than a cruise line can. That's because airlines know that cruises have to fly thousands of passengers into many ports each week or every four days to fill their ships.  

So when you negotiate for airline seats to package with blocked group space, airlines will work with an agency if it's  filling a need for them. Lindsay Monell Hardy, one of the owners of a Travel Leaders agency in Palm Coast, Fla., negotiates group fares with airlines to package with group space. She’s got six people on a waiting list for her latest such package. 

The road to profits in selling travel does not only lie in high volume and inexpensive prices. That’s one model, certainly, but it's not the only one. Small, customized and local also works. 

Whether you book a unique ship or a unique trip, small means limited capacity and individualized offerings. And when demand outstrips capacity, be it for a single ship or a special  cruise package, discounting is not in your vocabulary. 

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