Direct cruise bookings are nothing new, but during Cruise Week visits to agency offices in recent months agents expressed concerns about them with renewed vigour.
While most vacation planners at cruise lines may be competent at what they do, other cruise sellers say that they don’t, and aren’t meant to, perform all the functions of a full-service travel agent. But how can agents get this message to consumers?
“What agents have to get across and be aggressive in communicating is not only what they do, but what a cruise line does not,” says Cruise Holidays V.P. Mark Schiffner. “Every agency owner can make sure part of what they do in their individual client interaction is to give a little bit more information on why to use a travel agent.”
Schiffner says it’s important to tailor your message to your respective audience – this is where local agents have an advantage over direct. Even with repeat clients he says agents should make it clear when they can offer deals that aren’t available by booking direct.
Schiffner notes that people are used to doing easy searches for hotels, cars, and airline tickets, but they may need to be reminded it’s not so simple for cruises. “Cruises are not a simple purchase, and agents can answer the questions people have,” says Schiffner. “All the research agents do leads to knowing the deals out there, having inside information about the various categories, and, of course, knowing in depth about many cruise lines versus vacation planners, who don’t know about all the different cruise lines.”
It’s also important to point out how using an agent can save time for a client. “There are 40-50 pages on shore excursions; it’s time-consuming to do it on your own versus dealing with someone who knows,” says Schiffner.
Above all, agents should recognize that even their most basic knowledge often exceeds that of the client. “Some clients still don’t know the differences within categories of cruise lines,” says Schiffner. “Some don’t know what is a luxury ship, what is a premium ship, or where to find the best values. Agents do.”