BELLEVUE, Wash. -- This spring, 700 agents graduated from a
specialist program designed by the Niche Cruise Marketing Alliance
(NCMA) to highlight small-ship and niche cruising.
Those agents now are the first of the NCMA's "army," according
to Larry Dessler, the organization's newly named executive
"I believe in the distribution system," Dessler said, "and
that's my No. 1 goal, to provide for this 'army.' And I'm providing
them with weapons that will enable them to be successful."
Those "weapons" include discount and bonus commission coupons,
special offers and, in the future, collateral and sales aids, and,
of course, the education gleaned from the training course.
The NCMA includes American Canadian Caribbean Line, Peter
Deilmann Cruises, American West Steamboat Co., Norwegian Coastal
Voyage, Cruise West, Star Clippers, MSC Cruises, RiverBarge
Excursion Lines and Captain Cook Cruises.
Galapagos cruise company Canodros, which operates the Galapagos
Explorer II, is the newest member of the NCMA, Dessler said.
The organization's message: With prices higher than a standard
Caribbean fare, niche cruising not only is a profitable sell, it's
a product that can differentiate a travel seller from Web retailers
or its rival down the block.
However, that message often is overshadowed by those of the
major cruise lines, which have millions of dollars of marketing
In contrast, Dessler said the NCMA's marketing budget is about
$100,000 this year.
"When you're standing in the shadows of the mainstream cruise
industry, it's hard to be seen," he said. "And when you're on a
panel, it's hard to get a word in edgewise. We have an important
job to do and limited resources. But that's the reason this
organization was created."
Dessler, who previously worked with Holland America Line and now
runs his own consulting firm, has been with the NCMA since
He said he is focusing most of his energy on travel agents, and
that the training manual -- created by Marc Mancini, a professor of
travel at West Los Angeles College -- along with the course exam
has been a major component of that focus.
The group has mailed and distributed thousands of sales manuals,
Dessler said, and the NCMA began directing interested agents to the
program on line.
The NCMA's Web site, www.nichecruise.com, contains a link to the
training materials. Agents are instructed to return to the site to
take the exam.
If they pass, agents get a graduation certificate -- and access
to those sales weapons.
"This is an area where an agent can literally get a credential
and find a way to stand apart from the Travelocitys and the
Expedias," Dessler said.