The Travel Industry Survey has consistently found that a higher percentage of cruises are sold through preferred suppliers than any other travel product.
Travel Weekly senior editor Tom Stieghorst spoke about why that is with Drew Daly, general manager of network engagement and performance at CruiseOne and Dream Vacations.
Q: Why do you think more cruises are sold through preferred suppliers than any of the other products?
A: We do a very significant business in the cruise space, so we do have strong partnerships and agreements with the biggest partners. Cruising is still very much of a niche market, and there's still a big piece of the pie in helping people come on the ship and be more educated and aware of the value of a cruise vacation.
We [also] have solid preferred supplier agreements with companies that offer tours, hotels and air. That said, I would think the reason why it is a lower percentage [in other areas] in the survey is because these products have a greater propensity to be available at different promotions and rates from different companies. For instance, you can purchase a hotel from the hotel direct, a tour operator or an online booking portal.
Q: Many franchisers and consortia have relationships with a broad swath of the cruise industry. In what situation is a cruise sold outside a preferred agreement?
A: We always focus our efforts on our preferred suppliers. There are times when a customer or agent wants something very unique that we may not have within the realm of our preferred supplier agreements. The agents find other options, but it's very rare that it happens.
Q: What is the incentive for travel agents to use preferred suppliers?
A: No. 1, higher commission structures are in place, based on what we agreed upon. In addition to that, we're able to collaborate on certain strategic marketing opportunities and events. So whether it's a promotion or a product focus area or exclusive pricing, we have those types of amenities, even if it's for group-type stuff.
They have access to better training, some of it exclusive to our groups like the Seminars at Sea that we do, or fams. It's really targeted that way so they get to network with the supplier.
Q: Does the CruiseOne team advocate that agents use preferred suppliers?
A: Yes, it would be myself, my team, anyone within our organization. We collaborate on virtual cruise nights where we broadcast [a preferred supplier's message to a franchisee's] customers. Everyone is very much an advocate for all of our preferred partners.
Another thing we get is local support, and that's paramount with our agents because it helps them grow their business locally. It could be co-op advertising, it could be a local [business development manager] or district sales manager for each of the suppliers out there. Sometimes the BDM will say, "I have this business opportunity, and because you're with CruiseOne we want to partner with you."
Q: As a travel product becomes more like a commodity, it's less likely to be sold under preferred arrangement. Why?
A: With a cruise, there's a lot of puts and takes in the details of what they're offering. The supplier has to be sure they're partnering with the right agency. An airline or a car rental company, it's something [consumers] might be using more. It has a bigger footprint than a cruise.