There's money left on the table, and now is the time to grab it.
I'm talking about future cruise credits (FCCs) and future travel credits (FTCs), the de facto currency of the pandemic within the travel agency community.
Many of the FCCs and FTCs out there haven't been converted to rebookings, and there's a growing urgency to reach out to clients and get 2021 travel on the books: Evidence suggests that more and more consumers are opting to take refunds. And remember, future credits are held by the passenger, not the agency, so the onus is on the advisor here.
In their most recent quarterly financial earnings reports, the three biggest cruise lines all reported fewer passengers taking FCCs lately compared with earlier this year. Carnival, for instance, said 60% of passengers took FCCs in mid-May, with the rest opting for refunds. But in mid-September, 45% opted to take FCCs.
Future credits were deservedly a topic of conversation during Avoya Travel's virtual conference held Oct. 19 to 22.
Steve Hirshan, Avoya's senior vice president of sales, said 13,487 future travel credit records exist in the host's Agent Power technology platform. As of mid-October, 5,257, or 39%, had already been rebooked.
Hirshan said the remaining 8,230 future credits that still need to be rebooked represent a whopping $33 million in business, or $3 million in commission payments.
It is, as he said, "low-hanging fruit."
And Avoya believes it is overindexing compared to its peers. Ashley Hunter, senior vice president of strategic operations and partnerships, said that based on conversations she has had with suppliers, the host agency's independent contractors are performing better than their peers when it comes to converting future credits into bookings.
Logically, that means that the majority of bookings somewhere north of 61% initially completed by agents and since turned into future credits, remain as credits. That's money left on the table.
But how to convert them?
Several of Avoya's independent contractors shared how they have had success. Their answers boiled down to frequent, informed communication with clients.
For instance, Rick Amsden, who owns Luxury Vacations in Marietta, Ga., with his wife, Lisa Long, has talked to clients about the opportunities offered by booking now for cruising in the next two years. He also tells them he expects availability to become an issue, which has proven to be true. He advises clients who want specific dates, itineraries or cabins to book as soon as possible.
To keep track of her clients with future credits, Long said she has been scheduling calls and keeping lists of clients who will only be comfortable sailing when a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available. She also looks for reasons to call them, such as something new going on with their cruise line of choice. Long said she always tries to call, not email, so she can have a discussion with clients.
David Walsh of CWCruises in Bradenton, Fla., warns his clients that future credits do have an expiration date. He also reminds them that they can use their credit and still take advantage of what are typically more lax cancellation policies than were in place pre-Covid.
As Danny Dobrott, senior manager of Avoya Mastermind, said, "Remember: There's a lot of money out there to help your business."