TORONTO — Now that the CDC has lifted its No Sail Order, it’s no wonder that cruising took centre stage yesterday on day two of TPI Re-Ignite.
The four-day online conference, attended by over 400 TPI Travel Advisors and 42 suppliers, featured several of the company’s top cruise partners in various sessions yesterday, including an Executive Cruise Panel that covered everything from commissions and Future Cruise Credits, to tips for agents on how to reignite their business during this unprecedented time for the travel industry.
Participating in yesterday’s panel were: Beverley Vickers, Director of Sales & Marketing Canada at Regent Seven Seas Cruises; John Chernesky, Senior Vice President, Sales & Trade Marketing at Princess Cruises & Cunard; Laurie Bohn, Director of National Accounts, Training and Trade Associations at Royal Caribbean International; Meg Murgatroyd, Global Partnership Director at Quark Expeditions; and Michelle Palma, VP of Field Sales at Uniworld.
Addressing the entire panel, Caroline Hay, TPI’s National Director of Sales, extended her heartfelt gratitude.
“After seeing how much your companies and peers have truly had the backs of travel advisors, I can’t thank you enough,” she said. “I know I speak on behalf of every Travel Advisor at TPI who has not had a commission recall from any of our cruise partners here – thank you, because we’re independent contractors and it’s not great paying back commissions eight months in. You’ve had our backs throughout this and we greatly appreciate it.”
Each panelist had the chance to address key issues and concerns during the hour-long session, here are some highlights:
To better support travel advisors during this time, a number of travel suppliers have announced upfront commissions in recent weeks. Quark Expeditions, for example, is paying a portion of commissions at time of deposit, said Murgatroyd.
When asked whether Uniworld will follow suit with plans to modify its own commission payment schedule, Palma said the cruise line is discussing the possibility internally.
“We’re certainly aware that there are some suppliers in the marketplace with upfront commission offers, and we know how challenging the past eight months have been,” she said. “And so we’ve been working closely with our advisors to help save each and every booking and save their commissions moving forward.”
Although Palma could not confirm whether Uniworld will, in fact, pay commissions upfront in the future, she did remind agents of a new 20% commission offer that’s applicable on any new booking that advisors make for 2021 departures.
“It’s not payable at time of booking but rather at sailing in 2021,” Palma admits, “but [upfront commissions] is something that we are discussing internally as we speak. We recognize the need for commissions to be in the pockets of advisors and agency partners now and not eight months from now.”
With most cruise lines offering Future Cruise Credits (FCCs) from the start of the pandemic, travel advisors are fielding many calls from clients concerned with expiration dates. Royal Caribbean, for example, is offering a 125% FCC if booked by Dec. 31, 2021, for travel by April 30, 2022.
Royal Caribbean’s Bohn, who was asked whether the cruise line would consider altering expiration dates to provide greater flexibility, said policies are constantly under review.
“We’re certainly considering where our policies lie today and where we’ll land with them. What we won’t let happen is simply run out of sailings or opportunities for advisors to book their clients,” she said. “I can’t tell you whether we’ve made any major changes except for the rules and deadlines we’ve provided thus far, but I do promise you we’re committed to doing the right thing. We will not allow a situation to develop where there just isn’t enough time or there aren’t enough sailings to make that work.”
BUBBLED SHORE EXCURSIONS
After a handful of cruise lines successfully operated cruises in Europe this summer, a new protocol to emerge was the bubbled shore excursion. This allowed passengers to go ashore only as part of an official cruise line shore excursion, giving cruise lines more control over sanitization and safety procedures.
Representing Princess, Chernesky was asked whether the cruise line will offer a similar protocol and, if so, whether they would be commissionable. Short answer? He doesn’t yet know.
“The shore excursions, I would say, is going to start slowly and we might have to restrict it to only our shore excursion program, the only reason being is we want to guarantee that the protocols from the ship extend to the shore,” he said. “It might be that it’s required to only work with our approved shore excursion providers, or maybe there’s a list of other providers that we are working with but have agreed to follow the same protocols.”
As for whether these excursions, if they do come to fruition, will be commissionable, Chernesky could not confirm at this time.
“I don’t know what the future brings,” he said, “this world changes every 30 minutes so we’ll have to see what comes.”
THE UPSIDE TO SELLING LUXURY
Obviously selling luxury product can be quite lucrative for travel advisors, particularly now when bookings may be minimal and profits are down. Said Regent Seven Seas’ Vickers: “A luxury cruise line such as Regent can really lead travel advisors toward working less and making more.”
She cited higher paid commissions due to the “inclusive and high-end nature of the product” as a good reason for advisors to pursue a luxury angle. Vickers also added that everyone wants to aspire to something of higher quality, “whether it’s an elevated dining experience, upgrading from a cabin to a suite, or having a bathtub and a shower.”
But she does admit that the price point can be a hurdle for many advisors: “The profit is definitely there, but they may have to spend a little time to get there.”
Vickers reminded agents to take advantage of Regent’s tools and resources, including its relaunched online university. Regent is also launching a new platform that includes a “canned presentation formula” that clients can set up at their own pace, click on various modules and learn about promotions.
According to Quark Expedition’s Murgatroyd, there’s been increased demand among the company’s partners for travel to the world’s most remote and pristine destinations, particularly the polar regions where Quark operates. But many of these destinations require larger distances to travel – will this deter clients from booking?
“There might be a misconception about distance to travel to some of our locations,” she said. “As an example, Canadians can fly directly from Toronto with Quark on a charter flight into the Canadian Arctic, where we’ll have four programs in 2021. So in theory you can have breakfast at home in Toronto and have dinner in the Arctic that same evening. So we’re not seeing distance to travel as a challenge at all.”
Murgatroyd added that people are no longer waiting for their bucket-list destinations and are now making them a top priority.
AGENT TIPS TO REIGNITE BUSINESS
Hay closed the session by posing one final question to each panelist: “If you were a travel advisor today, what would you do to reignite your business?”
Murgatroyd said she would capitalize on groups, noting Quark Expeditions is seeing a lot of group enquiries right now.
Uniworld’s Palma stressed the importance of talking to friends and family while they’re in the “dream phase”, as well as booking virtual events to be inspired.
Regent Seven Seas’ Vickers reminded advisors to take this time to look at their database and develop a list of people who they think could be potential luxury cruisers. She also touted the benefits of speaking directly to people rather than via social media or email, as this is the preferred method of communication for luxury guests. And one other useful tip? If an advisor has a personal newsletter, ask clients whether they would consider being featured in it. “They could suggest trips for other people and revenue can grow that way too,” she said.
Royal Caribbean’s Bohn suggested trying something different and to not assume clients aren’t ready to travel. “You may think they’re on pause but then some other savvy advisor will swoop right in because while they were on pause two weeks ago, they’re now fed up and ready to book that trip,” she said.
Lastly, Princess’ Chernesky highly recommended implementing a referral program (“the best source of marketing is your existing client”) and not being afraid to sell yourself. Survey existing clients, he said, and find out your net promoter score and your rebook rate, then share these stats with people.
“If you can go out and say 98% of my clients rebook with me, or I have a 95% net promoter score, these stories are powerful,” he said. “Use some of that data to convince folks that you’re an expert at what you do.”
THE FIVE Ps
Day two of the conference also included a keynote session with Dondra Ritzenthaler, Senior Vice President of Sales, Trade Support & Service, North America, UK & APAC at Celebrity Cruises. She outlined the Five Ps that travel advisors should keep in mind when reigniting their business for 2020 and beyond. They are:
- Perseverance: With the CDC’s No Sail Order now lifted, Ritzenthaler said the industry’s perseverance has paid off. “We’re going to rock and roll, reignite the fire, get this stuff done so that we can get in the water.”
- Power: “Your attitude impacts every single thing you do,” said Ritzenthaler. “You’ve got to build your attitude from the inside out.”
- Perspective: Life is 10% of what happens and 90% how you respond to it, said Ritzenthaler. “Don’t sweat the small stuff and rely on each other because you need supportive partnerships.”
- Passion: Ritzenthaler challenges all advisors to “lead with both your heart and your head” and to find that balance. “It is so critical to your success.”
- Purpose: “What is it you want to be remembered for?” asked Ritzenthaler. Aside from being the best mom she can possibly be, Ritzenthaler said she wants to be remembered for “the right things”, including caring about travel advisors, their success and the cruise industry.