Agents put wind in The Moorings' sails

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Before it was bought by Grand Expeditions in June 2001, yacht-charter operator The Moorings had no interest in working with agents.

"Traditionally these vacations were sold through specialized brokers instead of agents," said Lex Raas, the company's president. "It's only recently that we have been able to make the product easy for agents to sell."

Apparently, easy does it: The Moorings now is the top producer among the eight luxury tour operators that make up Grand Expeditions, which includes such agent-friendly operators as Travcoa, TCS Expeditions and Country Walkers.

Furthermore, The Moorings is reporting a 30% increase in revenue this year over 2002.

Part of Grand Expedition's strategy in buying The Moorings was to expand it through agency sales. To do so, the company singled out crewed charters -- as opposed to its bareboat charters and self-piloted or skippered power yachts -- as a product easy for agents to pitch as a personalized alternative to cruising.

"The crewed yacht is good for those who know nothing about sailing," said Raas. "It comes with goodies, food, a captain and a hostess/chef. They live on the boat and do everything. They maintain the boat, they are entertainers."

Crewed charters have no fixed itinerary. "The guests decide with the captain on a daily basis what they want to do," said Raas. "It's very personalized."

Of more than 700 yachts in The Moorings' fleet, 50 are upgraded with luxury appointments and offered as crewed charters. They can be sailed from any of 26 international destinations, most of which are in the Caribbean and Mediterranean.

The Moorings, which began its relationship with the retail sector through Virtuoso, also is affiliated with the Leisure Travel Group.

"We offer training," said Raul Bermudez, The Mooring's vice president of sales and marketing, global. "We set up a group of agents, have lectures, teach them about the product. We attend the Virtuoso Travel Marts, spend time talking with the agents about our product and taking their feedback."

The Moorings also has started to reach out to the agency community at large.

"We are marketing our brochures with a note to 'Call your travel agent,' " said Bermudez. "We've gone through the learning curve, and now we can start to see the results."

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