Think Tank delves into river and expedition cruising at CruiseWorld

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Think Tank moderator Joanie Ogg hands the mike to Geoff Millar of Ultimate All-Inclusive Travel. Cruise specialist Craig Satterfield looks on.
Think Tank moderator Joanie Ogg hands the mike to Geoff Millar of Ultimate All-Inclusive Travel. Cruise specialist Craig Satterfield looks on. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

FORT LAUDERDALE -- Agents tackled a number of topics on river and expedition cruises Wednesday during CruiseWorld's annual Think Tank here, hosted by Rob Huffman, Scenic Group's vice president of U.S. sales.

One of the first and enduring topics was the ideal customer for river and expedition cruises.

Shari Kavalin, owner of Elegant Escape Travel in Maitland, Fla., said clients who "want to be in the heart of everything" are a good match for European river cruises. They might want to avoid an ocean cruise, where they could be several hours from city centers they want to visit.

Another agent agreed, saying river cruisers tend to be those who want to get a little more inland. They also look for opportunities like additional tours and pre- and post-cruise stays.

Huffman said Scenic's "sweet spot" for river cruises is still the baby boomer generation. They have the time and money to spend.

Think Tank host Rob Huffman said Scenic Group's "sweet spot" for river cruises is still the baby boomer generation.
Think Tank host Rob Huffman said Scenic Group's "sweet spot" for river cruises is still the baby boomer generation. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

Veteran cruise specialist Craig Satterfield, author of "Confessions from the Cruise Scholar," tackled the topic of mining customers for exploration cruises.

"It's actually really easy, because you already have those people," Satterfield said. "It's all a matter of dropping hints, a 'by the way' type of thing."

He encouraged agents to suggest the product to existing clients to see who bites. The same is true for other high-priced products, like world cruises, Satterfield said. For example, he said a recently widowed client sold her large ranch in Texas and told him she wanted to do something special. Satterfield asked if she would consider a world cruise. He made the sale and an $18,000 commission.

Huffman cautioned agents about underestimating a client's budget when selling river and expedition cruises. They may be willing to spend more than you think.

Responding to an agent's question, Huffman also addressed a hot-button topic during the Think Tank: low water affecting river cruise itineraries.

While a number of the Scenic Group's ships were unaffected, the company did cancel two sailings. It's not ideal, he said, but it happens. And, both Scenic and Emerald have a "river cruise guarantee," he said: If a sailing is negatively impacted for a significant amount of time, guests are typically compensated monetarily. He encouraged agents to reach out to him with any questions or customer-service issues stemming from low water levels.

The other big topic of the night was how agents, particularly home-based independent contractors, can best connect with their business development managers (BDMs).

One agent suggested first completing a supplier's online courses to get to know the product and listening to webinars.

Another agent suggested reaching out to their BDM as listed on the supplier's website, letting them know you're a smaller agency and want to forge a relationship with them.

Agency owner Shari Kavalin said clients who "want to be in the heart of everything" are a good match for European river cruises.
Agency owner Shari Kavalin said clients who "want to be in the heart of everything" are a good match for European river cruises. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

Geoff Millar, co-owner of Ultimate All-Inclusive Travel in Gilbert, Ariz., said agents who complete online courses and get in touch with their BDM will often find BDMs have no problem setting up training.

"Make the effort and reach out," Millar said.

Many times, BDMs don't know the location of smaller agencies or how to get in touch with them, he said. But if an agent takes the time to reach out, "they'll bend over backwards for you."

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