For the February issue, we spoke with travel advisors and cruise industry principals from Princess, Scenic, Seabourn, and Windstar to gain insight on how to convert your affluent clients into first-time cruisers.
For Rob Huffman, v.p., sales, Scenic Group USA, it’s all about “properly qualifying the prospect. Asking the right questions that eventually allow us to determine the best product and experience that exceeds the expectations of the consumer makes all the difference. Where did they go on their last holiday? Where did they stay? What did they enjoy the most? What, if anything, did they find disappointing? What do you consider the most important when planning a holiday?
“Each question provides a piece to the puzzle that eventually narrows down the options…and then pointing out how a small ship cruise can meet their
Travel advisor Kathy Lunceford, Cruise Planners franchise owner, agrees with Huffman, noting that her affluent clients who do cruise “prefer the deluxe smaller to mid-size ships, 100 up to approximately 1,200 guests, for the intimacy and levels of service, and also for more access to smaller ports of call; they also prefer to have everything included. Currently, the popular destinations are Southeast Asia, Iceland, Galapagos, South America, Australia and New Zealand.
“They are also seeking personalized experiences; cultural exchanges with locals; cooking classes; onboard education/lectures; health and fitness-minded activities; to name a few. In other words, many travelers seek to learn, rather than only be entertained.
She points to Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea, and Crystal Cruises smaller yachts, and for more medium-sized, she recommends Oceania Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises. If the client is opting for a river cruise, her recommendations are Tauck, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, AmaWaterways, Viking and Scenic.
She adds that her affluent clients expect “excellent service levels, gourmet cuisine, deluxe accommodations, and inclusiveness (drinks, gratuities, air, excursions).”
Seabourn’s Chris Austin, sr. v.p. of global sales and marketing, advises travel advisors against focusing on cruising as a conversation starter. “Don’t ask them if they want to go on a cruise, because they may have preconceived notions based on a number of myths on what a cruise is and not even realize there are quality luxury options available. To begin, the travel advisor should identify the client’s passion points and the ‘why’ behind their choices for land-based vacations. Do they choose the destination first or do they chose the resort because it had a great spa, an excellent reputation for culinary, and maybe even a Michelin star restaurant / notable chef?
“Having identified passion points, you can introduce the next vacation experience by aligning to that passion. For example, you might say, ‘So, you love world-class spa and wellness programs and you want to visit Asia. I have identified the perfect resort for your next trip. It has a Spa & Wellness program curated by Dr. Andrew Weil with wellness coaches available and classes each and every day.’ Then you introduce the location. ‘This option isn’t in just one location but takes you to many throughout Asia and I know some of them are of interest to you.’
“At that point you introduce Seabourn and our five ultra-luxury resorts at sea and sell all the other benefits but don’t use the word cruise. Of course, the travel advisor should make sure they have done their research and know what promotional added value offer is in the market. When the client compares the value proposition—which for cruise is incredible when you consider lodging, food, beverage, and aspects of transportation are built in—and you reinforce that it does deliver on their passions, the travel advisor has that client locked in.”
Travel advisor Helen Papa, president of TBH Travel, a Virtuoso Agency, recognizes that introducing cruising to first-timers can be a challenging task. She says that, “Often people who have traveled only by flying to their destination have the misconception that cruising is a lot of food and sitting around. I explain that the ship is part of a wonderful vacation experience. They will be able to dine, enjoy entertainment and even get a spa treatment while the ship sails to the next port. The ship is a home base while traveling to numerous destinations without having to check in and out of multiple hotels. Cruising also offers a great way to visit a variety of places around the world that perhaps they wouldn’t fly to.”
She also points out that you can tell your wealthy clients that cruising is ideal if they want to go somewhere different, special. “Cruises are a great way to meet this need,” she says. “Whether it be a smaller ocean ship or a river cruise, we recommend places that are remote and not easy to get to from airports. I also like to select cruise itineraries that combine several ports to include destinations my clients are familiar with, as well as a couple of ports that I know are hidden gems. This way they can use the ship as a floating boutique hotel, seeing diverse and intriguing places.”
Ask Steve Steve Simao, v.p. of sales for Windstar Cruises, what he thinks travel advisors should keep top of mind when they are recommending a cruise to affluent clients who have never cruised, and he gets right to the point: “It’s all about the tried-and-true sales tactic of qualifying your clients and matching them to the cruise product that will best fit their needs and desires.” Advisors need to “teach affluent clients about the value, convenience, features, benefits and joys of a cruise vacation. Of course, we hope that will be a Windstar cruise, but in truth, Windstar is 180 degrees from ordinary and will be the perfect fit for only a select clientele.
“Once you identify which of your affluent clients you think will be the ideal Windstar guest, teach them about our unique attributes and it really becomes about selling this totally unique vacation experience and less about the fact that this dream destination vacation just happens to take place on a small cruise ship.”
Dream Vacations franchise owner and travel advisor Dawn Beers O’Brien concurs, stating that she provides her clients with “options that fit the experience they are seeking after qualifying them and hearing what they might want out of their luxury vacation.”
Beers adds that she’s been recommending river cruising and small-ships (under 300 cabins) because her “high-end clients want more intimacy on board, in terms of the ability to get to know the other passengers traveling with them. They do not want to be overwhelmed by crowds or a carnival-like atmosphere when they travel.
“Europe is a huge seller right now, or anything unusual that their other friends have not seen or done. Expeditions to the Galapagos or up to Alaska, in which the smaller ships can get into ports that other ships cannot access. It all leads to bragging rights—they can take these experiences back home and share with friends all of the obscure locales they have visited.”
John Chernesky, v.p., North American Sales for Princess Cruises, says converting an affluent client into a first-time cruiser “is all about understanding what they desire most when it comes to their vacation. Talk to them about trips they’ve done in the past and why have they decided not to take a cruise? Help dispel any myths they may have heard about taking a cruise vacation. Use the stories of your existing clients to make it real and explain what can be experienced on a cruise versus just staying at a land resort. Don’t underestimate the power of storytelling, either from your own trips or the clients you already work with. Share pictures or video to get them emotionally invested.
“Even though your clients may be affluent,” he continues, “I guarantee they still want to receive the best possible value for the money they spend. But that doesn’t mean they want a cheap vacation. They want the most bang for their buck. Since we all know that cruising offers the best value in the vacation industry, it’s really about qualifying them for the right brand. What would be the best fit for them? Your #1 goal as their travel advisor is to do what’s right for them and ensure they are going to come back to you for their next trip.”