FORT LAUDERDALE -- Selling river cruises, working with business development managers (BDMs), navigating social media and how to present your professional self to clients were some of the topics raised during CruiseWorld's annual Think Tank here.
The workshop, hosted by Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours and Emerald Waterways, attracted about 200 agents eager to swap ideas and learn from their peers.
On the subject of professionalism, about half the audience raised their hands when asked by one of the moderators if they advertised a professional designation, such as those obtained from programs like the Travel Institute or CLIA.
"Professionalism is one of the pet peeves of mine," said one advisor. "You always have to represent yourself as a professional." She added that she puts on lipstick and dresses for work daily, even though she works from home.
Another advisor said that putting a smile on her face each morning was how she let her customers know she was a professional.
When working with BDMs, several advisors suggested different ways to deepen the relationship, so that agents aren't just calling development managers when they have a need. Pay the tab at lunch with your BDM, said one Think Tank participant. Reach out to BDMs to report whenever customers had a great trip, said another.
One participant said she asks BDMs which port destinations they would like to emphasize and holds "travel tasting" lunches at local restaurants built around those port calls.
Allen Seigler, a co-owner of Travel World of Crosby, in Athens, Ga. said when he relocated to a retail location on the downtown Main Street and reached out to BDMs for help to establish the location, he received 36 boxes of magazines, brochures, collateral, swag and other helpful items.
"it was completely overwhelming," Seigler said.
The challenge of river
When asked whether it was harder to sell ocean cruises or river cruises, a large majority of the audience said river. The image of river cruising is still old, passive and sedate, said some participants. "My clients are not quiet, and that kind of scares them," said Kelly Allen, of Kelly Allen Travel in Jupiter, Fla.
Another agent said her "young 50s" clients came back to report the evening entertainment consisted of a German Elvis impersonator and a zither player.
Others said senior clients were attracted to what they said were "rock bottom" rates from Grand Circle Line and Overseas Adventure Travel, which don't pay commission. An agent said an effective counter is to point out that those lines don't guarantee departures.
Ann Chamberlin, the newly appointed sales vice president at Scenic, said it was also important to do comparisons to show that items like air and gratuities are included in the price by lines such as Scenic, and not by others.
Video dominated the conversation when the Think Tank took up social media. Sharon, an agent from Jamaica, said she gets permission from suppliers use their videos and to add an intro and a call-to-action at the end. She said it can be a very effective tool to close a sale.
Natalie, from Austin, Texas, said she asks clients for videos of their trip to post on her social media sites and pays them $25 if the videos lead to a new booking.
Another agent said that after successfully leading a group of 32 guests through Barcelona during some recent civil disturbances, she was surprised two weeks after she got back by a "best travel agent in the world party" thrown by the group.
She said she got five leads just from posting video of the party on her social media accounts.