TORONTO — For Rhonda Parker, shrimp cocktail is more than just her favourite appetizer, it’s also a valuable selling tool.
The Victoria, B.C.-based travel industry veteran and President of Destinations By Design, a Cruise CEO affiliated company, has found repeated success in upselling her clients by sharing one particular scenario.
“I love shrimp cocktail and have had it on all of my cruises. But this one time when I ordered it on a three-star cruise as part of my meal plan, it ended up being small canned shrimp served in the can sauce. Had I just upgraded my meal plan for another $80, I would’ve enjoyed a much better dining experience at an alternative restaurant,” Parker tells Travelweek.
Of course, the prospect of upselling to clients, whether it be for quality seafood or ultra-luxe accommodations, may seem like a daunting task for many travel agents, particularly at a time when people are only now returning to work or are still relying on government aid to make ends meet. But according to Parker, not only is business booming, people are paying above and beyond to reward themselves after a near two-year hiatus from travel.
“Travellers work hard for their travel time and dollars and they want to ensure it’s everything they hoped it would be and more,” says Parker. “I believe we’ll see more travellers upgrading and new aircraft with more Premium, Business and First Class seating. Gone are the days of sardines in a can. Now are the days of taking that little more for ourselves because we deserve it.”
Caroline Hay, Cruise CEO President, says that the luxury market has bounced back quicker than others, largely because clients are seeking more space, exclusive experiences and a sense of security.
“When travel was paused, advisors repeatedly heard, ‘We just need something to look forward to,’ which propelled clients to secure the trip of a lifetime. We saw cruise lines launch their world cruise itineraries and sell out in 24 hours, which is unheard of and very exciting to see,” says Hay.
As Hay also notes, there are millions of Future Cruise and Travel Credits still yet to be used, which for travel agents, represent a good opportunity to sell extras and value-added perks.
“Clients are using their credits to pay for a portion of the trip – perhaps they have $5,000 in credits – and now they’re adding an extra $2,000 to the cost of their trip to have a premium experience or upgrade to Premium or Business class. They’re okay with increasing their budgets to ensure that their trip encompasses all of these elements,” says Hay.
We asked Parker, Hay and other travel advisors for their tips on how to upsell to clients. Here’s what they had to say:
PAINT A PICTURE
A little bit of visualization can go a long way, says Parker. As someone who has personally experienced Concierge and Suite life during her cruise travels, Parker has found that painting a picture for her clients has been really effective.
“I always do a comparison between a 3 star (plastic cups and plates at the buffet), a 4 star (real coffee cups and glassware), and a 5 star (waiters carrying the tray to your table),” she says. I find more often than not they will upgrade because of the extra value, whether it’s perceived or actual.”
The tactic also works when trying to get clients to upgrade their flight seats, “one of the easiest upgrades for anyone,” adds Parker.
“Paint a picture of going from Economy to Premium, with wider seats and more legroom to stretch out, getting to board the plane first and having extra time to settle in and have a bit of Champagne before the flight departs. Now compare that to sitting side by side with 250 other people,” she says. “If they don’t have the extra cash, suggest using points. The points-to-cost ratio makes it very appealing.”
For Lola Vassiliadis, Owner of Cruise Holidays of Oakville & Lawrence Park, the old adage of “not selling from your pocketbook” couldn’t be more true. She encourages other travel advisors to not let their personal preferences get in the way of what the client wants.
“Don’t get caught looking at a price and saying you wouldn’t pay that much – it’s not you that’s buying,” she says. “The client may be very used to paying a premium to get what they want. Underselling can be an insult to them so aim high and let them tell you if you are out of their price range. It’s a lot easier going down than trying to bring them up to a higher price.”
Hay also agrees, adding that despite the fact that the travel industry has been one of the hardest hit since the start of the pandemic, travel advisors can’t assume that clients are in the same financial situation as them.
“Many companies and industries have recognized growth throughout the pandemic. As a result, we have a lot of clients who were not negatively affected financially,” she says. “They are ready to travel and catch up on the experiences they missed.”
Jeff Smith, Travel Advisor and Tour Guide at Sunny South Vacations-TPI in Whitby, Ontario, says that his approach with all his clients is simple yet effective: provide a variety of options to consider that fall both within and outside their budget.
“It all starts with an initial conversation and listening to your client. I often find that the vacation experience they want is always a little bit outside their budget parameters, which is why I always show an option that is slightly above the range they provide. That way they can see for themselves what they can get by increasing their budget,” he says.
The options that fall outside their budget parameters usually offer significant value over the other options, whether it be a better room/stateroom, better flight times or access to an elevated level of service like a preferred club, he adds. But as he notes, clients don’t need to increase their budget by much – a couple hundred dollars is often all it takes to unlock so much more value.
“I provide the information and they generally make a purchasing decision that often involves selecting the upgraded package or experience. Providing information empowers them to make the best vacation decision for their personal situation,” says Smith.