“Home-based agents feel invisible to suppliers when they join a host.” Does that sound familiar?
A home-based travel agent voiced a common refrain during a focus group session for NCL’s new Independent Travel Professional (ITP) channel. NCL says its goal in dedicating resources to home-based partners “is to eliminate that invisibility, inviting them all to ‘Raise Your Hand’,” says Clark Reber, Independent Travel Professionals (ITP) for NCL and the lead on the cruise line’s new outreach program for home-based agents.
Reber says NCL wants to embrace home-based partners where it matters and give meaning to individual relationships that may be “too often overlooked or ignored”, he said. The first elements of the initiative have already launched with more to come.
NCL has developed a monthly newsletter exclusively for Independent Travel Professionals, plus the industry’s first-ever Symposium at Sea exclusive to Independent Travel Professionals, the industry’s first-ever ITP Advisory Board and invitations to Norwegian Cruise Line-sponsored events at national trade functions, for example, NCL’s hosted lunch at CLIA’s Cruise3Sixty in Vancouver in June. “Travel partners wishing to ‘raise their hand’ simply need to reach out to host headquarters, or if not affiliated, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org,” Reber added.
What sort of information does NCL want to get out to host agencies and home-based agents with the new ITP channel? “Our outreach to the Independent Travel Professional community is very much in line with the underlying pillars of Norwegian’s Partners First commitment – ‘listening and taking action’ and ‘investing in your success.’ And our message to those agents is ‘We Believe in You’, ‘We Are Here for You’ and ‘Dedicated Sales Support for All’,” said Reber.
Home-based agents want to connect with suppliers, and vice-versa. However the nature of the home-based agency business means that home-based agents, especially those working without a host agency, can be hard to locate. “Overall we believe that we communicate well with the entirety of the travel trade, however the home-based, or Independent Travel Professional community is very diverse and our desire is to give every host agency the tools and opportunities they need to not only communicate, but engage their networks with our brand,” says Reber.
“In so many ways our brand proposition still remains one of the best kept secrets in the industry, but once a travel partner realizes the significant value and superb experience Norwegian delivers, suddenly something changes. It’s not enough for us to ‘change hearts and minds one agent at a time’.”
On NCL’s ITP Symposium at Sea, 174 agents and guests sailed aboard Norwegian Escape in early June. “I cannot tell you how many agents left that ship vowing to sell more Norwegian because of their fantastic experience onboard,” said Reber. “One agent explained to me that she was an ardent seller of one of our main competitors. She took me aside after the closing session and mentioned how exceptionally surprised she was by the Norwegian experience and that she would absolutely begin selling Norwegian. We have a great story to tell and are relying heavily on travel professionals to get the message out. All we are doing is providing the tools they need in a way that’s meaningful to them.”
Home-based partners as well as brick-and-mortar agents are very well-suited to have a ‘value versus price’ conversation with their clients, and that’s what makes travel agents such a valued partner for NCL, no matter where their office is based. “For many years our industry has trained consumers and travel agents to look for the best ‘deal’. If it was up to me that word would be eliminated from our vocabularies!” said Reber.
NCL provides value to guests from start to finish, he adds. “Norwegian’s Free at Sea promotion gives clients value over price by including any number of options, such as dining credit, beverage credit and so on as part of the promotion.”
He adds that NCL is reaffirming its value by making significant investments in its fleet. Earlier this year Norwegian announced The Norwegian Edge, an innovative program that promises to introduce a new standard of excellence that encompasses the entire guest experience, from ship hardware to culinary enhancements and exclusive private destination developments. The Norwegian Edge is a two-year, US$400 million investment. “We are doing a great job of getting away from commoditizing the Norwegian product and shifting to an environment where travel partners can talk about value – and make higher commissions – and programs like Free at Sea and The Norwegian Edge give them that opportunity.”
Asked what percentage of NCL’s trade bookings come from home-based agents, Reber said that while he can’t disclose specific numbers, NCL has “certainly seen growth in the sector”. More and more established agencies are entering the home-based arena, he says. “We feel it just makes sense to devote additional resources to a channel where there is not only growth but also an amazing sense of excitement and enthusiasm around our brand.”
NCL’s National Director, Sales – Canada, Dana Gain, says Canadian home-based agents can either contact their host headquarters or e-mail email@example.com to connect with NCL’s ITP channel. She added that the Canadian team encourages all home-based agents to keep in touch with the cruise line’s Business Development Managers in Canada, particularly in cases where the business model is not exclusively home-based, but rather a hybrid of storefront/independent. “These can be the hardest agents to identify and therefore offer support to, so it’s especially important that we keep these lines of communication open,” said Gain.
She advises agents to visit norwegiancentral.com and click on Sales Contacts for a complete list of field sales support: “We’re here to help!”
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This article appears in Sphere, Travelweek’s monthly e-newsletter for home-based agents.
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