FORT LAUDERDALE -- Cruise line representatives on Wednesday trumpeted the value that travel advisers bring to consumers and cruise lines alike during the Mastermind Sales & Marketing Secrets of Success at CruiseWorld here.
"I think the value that you bring to the consumer is immeasurable," said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and trade support and service at Royal Caribbean International. "You are truly the value interpreter."
Panel moderator Mary Pat Sullivan asked the executives about the best success stories they had seen in the agency community in the past year.
Freed focused on agents' value in helping consumers navigate complicated brands and products, especially difficult for the segment many lines are targeting: first-time cruisers.
"You become that expert, the person that really articulates what the value proposition is, and that is so important for all of us," Freed said.
The agency community as a whole is getting stronger, said Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president of sales and trade support and service for Celebrity Cruises.
That, she said, is evidenced in agent organizations focusing on selling preferred suppliers to collectively earn more. She encouraged agents to continue to leverage that strength. Ritzenthaler said she had also seen agents getting better at using business intelligence to better focus and segment marketing efforts.
Strength in unique product offerings, like affinity groups, is a high point Camille Olivere, senior vice president of Norwegian Cruise Line, said she had seen this year. The most successful affinity groups are built around something the agents themselves are passionate about, she said -- and they can be lucrative for the agents.
Sullivan, who was joined by co-moderator Joanie Ogg, also asked the panel for their advice on how agents can sell to the new-to-cruise segment.
Freed said Royal Caribbean had dedicated some of its best hardware, like the Navigator of the Seas, to shorter cruises that might appeal to consumers looking to test-drive a cruise vacation. She encouraged agents to introduce clients to cruising that way.
She also encouraged them to ask clients what they want in a vacation. If the answer is dancing, or food, or to relax, introducing a cruise is a natural next step.
"These are all things that our brands can bring to that vacationer, and we just need you to ask that open-ended question," she said.
On a similar note, Eva Jenner, vice president of sales for Holland America Line and Seabourn, told agents to expound the value of cruising to their customers, especially those considering all-inclusive options.
Certain destinations, like Alaska and Hawaii, "naturally are conducive to cruising," Olivere said. Those itineraries would be attractive to new cruisers.
Adolfo Perez, senior vice president of sales and trade marketing at Carnival Cruise Line, also emphasized selling the value of a cruise. While the price tag might seem steep to a first-time cruiser, agents should focus on the inherent value.
To help the trade accomplish that, Perez said, Carnival has stationed ships at home ports around the country -- down the east coast, in Texas and on the West Coast -- so a port is within a 5-hour drive of about 50% of the U.S. population. That helps eliminate the cost of airfare, which could be a barrier.
Lori Sheller, senior vice president of groups and strategic sales at MSC Cruises, used to be an agent. Some of the best agents she saw while she was in the field, she said, took the time to talk to their customers, listen to them and ask important questions to match them to the right product.
The word "cruise" is used too much, according to Josh Leibowitz, chief strategy officer of Carnival Corp. and senior vice president of Cunard.
"It's a way of traveling," he said. "It's an incredible experience."