Thought LeadershipSponsored by The Travel Corporation

The Art of Upselling and Cross-Selling

Qualifying clients well will get you the sale. Add in strategic upselling and cross-selling to turn a one-time sale into a lifetime client. Part 2 of a 2-part series.


What are your clients really looking for in a vacation experience? There’s no one answer, of course. In Part 1 of this 2-part series, we looked at Qualifying Clients to Get the Sale, including how a consultative sales process benefits both travel agents and clients. 

However it’s not just about getting the sale. It’s about creating the best possible experience for your clients—whatever their own unique definition of “best” might be—so your clients return again and again.

Your role as a travel agent is just this—using your expertise to find just the right experience for each client, which is sometimes a different experience than what they would have thought. Using the qualification process will get you there, but it will also reveal opportunities to cross-sell and/or upsell to an experience more suited to their travel desires. In doing this, you become a true advisor and are opening the window to grow and sustain your business for the long haul.

But how do you know when to cross-sell and upsell? Let’s take a look at some best practices.

Spot the Opportunity
“The best travel agents are what we call ‘value interpreters,’ ” says Jon Grutzner, president of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold USA. “They are listening for what is most important to a client and finding the best way to deliver on what the client values.” He uses Italy as an example: “There are multiple different ways to experience Italy. It could be a guided vacation, an ocean cruise, a river cruise, an FIT—or any combination of those elements. What’s most important is how that particular guest wants to experience that destination on this trip, not just how they might have traveled before or the least expensive choice.”

To help figure out the best options for clients, Grutzner recommends looking at what he calls the “genealogy” of the database: “Where have your travelers come from? What have they done before? Who is ready for a different kind of experience? In this respect, we talk about an ‘evolutionary vacation’—as age, time, money and family demographics change, travelers might be ready to change the kind of experience they seek in a vacation.” 

This approach can lead to increased opportunities for either cross-selling (moving a client from one kind of travel experience to another form of travel, say from a cruise to a guided vacation) or upselling (adding time or extra inclusions, or upgrading to a more luxurious option to bring it to a different level of experience).  

Pam Smith, leisure manager at Frosch Mann Travels in Huntersville, North Carolina, notes that “Travelers have a tendency to default to the product they’ve done before. If they’ve cruised before, for example, and enjoyed it, they might assume a cruise is best for their next trip. But that’s not always the case—we need to have those conversations about what they want to see and do to figure out the best option.” This is the heart and soul of travel professionals—using your expertise to point travelers in the right direction towards their best possible vacation.

For Bonnie Crosby, co-owner of Holiday Cruises & Tours of Las Vegas, part of Signature Travel Network, cross-selling and upselling became so important that they ultimately changed the nature of her business.

When she and her husband started their agency in 1993 under the name Cruise Holidays, “we sold exclusively cruises,” she says. But with demand for more variety, they started looking at land packages as well, first as an add-on to cruises and eventually as an alternative option when appropriate.  

“We do a lot of pre- and post-cruise land packages, as well as private shore excursions,” says Crosby. “Our clients love them so much that guided vacations have become a large part of our conversation, sometimes in addition to a cruise and sometimes instead of a cruise.”

Education is a big part of that transition. “Sometimes we have clients who say they don’t want a guided vacation,” she explains. “But then we remind them that they said that their favorite part of their last cruise vacation was the one-week guided vacation that included all the individual components they loved so much. They don’t necessarily think of it as a guided vacation—to them it’s just a great package that I’ve put together for them.”

Crosby will also recommend a guided vacation when a client’s destination preference doesn’t lend itself to a cruise—even if the client has started the conversation by asking for that travel style. For example, she says, “Sometimes people will want to see Ireland by cruise. But when we talk about what they really want to experience, I have to explain that they won’t have the opportunity to see most of those destinations by cruise. Then I show them guided vacation itineraries in Ireland that do include the places they actually want to see.”

Create the Opportunity
While many sales come from clients initiating the outreach to you, savvy travel agents get ahead of the game by actively using their databases and the concept of cross-selling to market different kinds of experiences to potential travelers. Lorrie Renne, who works as a travel advisor for AAA Club Alliance Inc. in Manhattan, Kansas, says that while her company handles the bulk of the marketing, she does reach out to specific clients when she sees a good opportunity for them. “I have my clients categorized,” she says, “so I know what kinds of vacations they’ve taken in the past. If I have someone who has done a high-end ocean cruise, they might be interested in a river cruise or a guided vacation, so I will let them know when I see a good special or opportunity to make that transition.”

Grutzner is also a big fan of mining the database for potential cross-selling. “Cruisers, ocean and river, as well as those who like all-inclusives are natural opportunities for guided vacations,” he says. “Another big opportunity for upselling to luxury guided vacations comes from clients who enjoy staying at boutique hotels. They’re not just looking for a brand name, but seeking a unique experience.”

Similarly, he urges agents to look at destinations their clients have already traveled to as one way of developing new ideas that might pique their interest: “If we look at a destination like Alaska, we know the experience is about scenery, wildlife, adventure and more; that summer is the peak travel season; and that it tends to have a higher price point, so what else might appeal to those travelers who have already gone to Alaska? Norway, for example, could be a great fit, offering a similar experience and roughly the same price point. But clients may not have considered this destination unless a travel agent recommends it based on their past interests.”

Open the Window
In addition to suggesting new forms of travel, Smith pays careful attention to her clients’ feedback on previous trips to see where there might be an open window to sell a more premium travel experience. She says, “My favorite is ‘We loved the trip, but the hotel could have been a little nicer or the transfers better.’ Then I know there’s an opportunity to go for something more upscale.”

She also listens carefully to the origin and background of a vacation idea to see what add-ons might be appropriate. For example, she recalls working with an older couple who was going to go on a river cruise in Europe. “They told me they didn’t anticipate ever being able to go back to Europe after this,” says Smith. “To make the most of their time there, I also suggested a guided vacation for after the river cruise. They loved the idea of seeing more while they were there.”

Crosby, too, finds many of her clients seek longer stays when they’re flying abroad. “Many of our shorter land excursions before or after cruises have progressed to guided vacations,” she says. “We let them know it can include private transfers, interesting restaurants, small group sizes, behind-the-scenes experiences, etc. Often they didn’t know they wanted those things because they didn’t even know they existed.”

Renne uses visuals to show clients what an enhanced travel experience might look like. In addition to the brochures, websites, Facebook and Instagram photos that most agents are already using, she has a digital frame on her desk with pictures from her own travels. “It’s a springboard for conversation,” she says. “Clients will see something in one of the photos and want to know more about it, how they can do the same thing.”

She also brings in other clients’ experiences when proposing an addition to a trip. “I will let a client know that the last time someone went on this trip, they added this or that and really loved it—then ask if they would also like to try that. I almost always do an upsell because people are looking for the kinds of experiences that make their vacation more unique or stress-free.”

Renne takes the time to truly breakdown every aspect of a trip, especially with clients who come in with the initial idea that they want to do an FIT. “I will always bring out the guided vacation brochures right away,” she says. “Some people have a misguided perception that it would be ‘old’ people stuck on a bus. So I show them the luxury coaches with all the room and amenities, and explain how it’s stress-free because they won’t have to worry about driving themselves around or choosing hotels. I share photos of what they will see and do, talk about small group sizes and interesting people of all different ages, the unique experiences like how a guided vacation can get them into the Sistine Chapel before anyone else—they just can’t do that on their own. And they almost always end up choosing the guided vacation.”

Crosby, too, is a strong advocate of making recommendations for enhancements along the way. “The average traveler doesn’t have the knowledge to know what they want or need, or how to go about putting it all together,” she says. “It’s our job to put together a complete package that shows them what they can do. It shows that you are knowledgeable and working in their best interest—and it gives them ideas about things they can do that they didn’t even know to ask about.”

This is where the true opportunity exists for cross-selling and upselling—using your knowledge and expertise to identify the right experience for each client. In doing so, you will create a loyal client base and continually grow your business.

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