MSC Cruises wants more home-based agent business

“There will be no slowing down”: MSC Cruises wants more home-based agent business

Plenty of travel suppliers say they value home-based agents but do they put their money where their mouth is?

MSC Cruises is investing heavily in the home-based agent channel, and with all the host agency expansion in this market, the cruise line sees a lot of opportunity here, says MSC’s newest hire Holly Sievers, Manager of Host and Home-Based Accounts, in this edition of Sphere’s Insider Interview.

Holly Sievers, Manager of Host and Home-Based Accounts, MSC Cruises

Holly Sievers, Manager of Host and Home-Based Accounts, MSC Cruises

Sphere: MSC Cruises’ Senior VP of Sales, Joe Jiffo, says the home-based channel is becoming extremely important and a rapidly growing sector for MSC Cruises. What’s your take?

Sievers: “Home-based travel agents are an extremely important entity for us to work with. Home-based agents make up a rapidly growing part of our business, which is why MSC Cruises felt strongly about expanding sales support in this particular area. At MSC Cruises, our goal is to be the easiest and most profitable brand for these agents to partner with, and we continuously look for new and exciting ways to create strong partnerships, provide tools and education and help agents grow their business.”

Sphere: You joined MSC Cruises in July 2017 as Manager of Host and Home-Based Accounts, MSC Cruises USA, responsible for the marketing, sales and training and education of the cruise line’s host agency/home-based agency accounts as well as its interline accounts. What can you tell us about MSC’s training and education opportunities for home-based agencies?

Sievers: “We believe in fostering strong relationships with our home-based partners to be mutually successful by listening to their needs and providing the necessary resources. Today’s technology has fuelled a shift in business model, and more and more agencies are adjusting their operations to allow their agents to work remotely. With this in mind, it’s paramount that we adapt communication, training and education in order to continue to reach, connect and engage with these agents no matter where they are.

“The home-based business model often requires agents to work hours that exceed the typical 9-to-5 work day, so we provide resources like webinars that they can complete at their leisure.

“Earlier this year we launched MSC Academy, our learning module to help agents successfully sell our brand and increase their earning potential. The learning module, through Travel Agent University, takes agents through multiple courses, quizzes and checkpoints to learn MSC Cruises’ history, fleet and onboard experiences. Once the module is completed, agents can earn a variety of prizes and rewards. The Academy allows us to educate all travel agents on MSC Cruises’ offerings and teach them how to effectively merchandise the brand.

“Personal one-on-one time is also key, especially for those working remote, so we frequently meet for coffee and host lunch and learns in their area, while always trying to coordinate around their busy schedules.

“We also provide marketing tools like co-branded flyers and customized videos that they can create and access at no cost.

“Considering the majority of home-based agents have partnered with a host agency, we work closely with the host at the corporate level with strategic advertising and marketing efforts to help drive brand awareness and trickle down business to the home-based agents.

“Ultimately, our goal is to support our partners’ great ideas and entrepreneurial spirit, while offering them concrete tools to effectively grow their business.”

Sphere: What makes cruising such a great fit for home-based agents to sell?

Sievers: “Cruises are a great fit for home-based agents for a number of reasons, namely when it comes to groups.

“Cruises offer simplicity and ease for groups large or small looking to travel together, and agents can capitalize on those benefits and drive profitable bookings in that segment. MSC Cruises has something for every group, no matter how diverse. Through a range of experiences, activities for every type of traveller and unique destinations, there are options suit every vacation vision, desire and budget.

“With a nearly US$10 billion investment in place, and a plan to introduce 10 more new ships to the market by 2026, there will be no slowing down for MSC Cruises over the next several years. 2017 has already been a banner year since we have introduced the new MSC Meraviglia, christened in June, and will continue rapid growth this year with MSC Seaside arriving to Miami in December.

“This incredible growth presents such an exciting opportunity for our agents to grow their business alongside MSC Cruises, and I’m eager to work with our dedicated partners to make this coming year the most mutually profitable yet.”

Sphere: Is there anything tailored specifically for Canadian home-based agents anywhere in MSC’s trade program?

Sievers: “MSC Cruises has a dedicated team in Canada allowing us to easily and directly reach our home-based agents to the north.

“We are also working with several host agencies that are actively expanding into the Canadian market. As those new accounts grow, we will continue to provide extensive support and training to all members, including those based in Canada.

“To streamline communication across the border, my plan is to work very closely with the Business Development Managers (BDMs) in Canada to assist with training and educational sessions throughout major markets. We understand and appreciate that travel agents are the individual owners and drivers of their business, so we want to lend support at a local level and give revenue recognition to both them and the local BDM.

“We want to be as accessible to the agent as possible, and provide them with all of the tools that they need to grow.”