Think Tank delves into river and expedition cruising at CruiseWorld

FORT LAUDERDALE — Agents tackled a number of topics on
river and expedition cruises Wednesday during CruiseWorld’s annual Think Tank
here, hosted by Rob Huffman, Scenic Group’s vice president of U.S. sales.

One of the first and enduring topics was the ideal customer for
river and expedition cruises.

Shari Kavalin, owner of Elegant Escape Travel in Maitland,
Fla., said clients who “want to be in the heart of everything” are a
good match for European river cruises. They might want to avoid an ocean
cruise, where they could be several hours from city centers they want to visit.

Another agent agreed, saying river cruisers tend to be those
who want to get a little more inland. They also look for opportunities like
additional tours and pre- and post-cruise stays.

Huffman said Scenic’s “sweet spot” for river
cruises is still the baby boomer generation. They have the time and money to
spend.

Veteran cruise specialist Craig Satterfield, author of “Confessions
from the Cruise Scholar,” tackled the topic of mining customers for exploration
cruises.

“It’s actually really easy, because you already have
those people,” Satterfield said. “It’s all a matter of dropping
hints, a ‘by the way’ type of thing.”

He encouraged agents to suggest the product to existing
clients to see who bites. The same is true for other high-priced products, like
world cruises, Satterfield said. For example, he said a recently widowed client
sold her large ranch in Texas and told him she wanted to do something special.
Satterfield asked if she would consider a world cruise. He made the sale and an
$18,000 commission.

Huffman cautioned agents about underestimating a client’s
budget when selling river and expedition cruises. They may be willing to spend
more than you think.

Responding to an agent’s question, Huffman also addressed a
hot-button topic during the Think Tank: low water affecting river cruise
itineraries.

While a number of the Scenic Group’s ships were unaffected,
the company did cancel two sailings. It’s not ideal, he said, but it happens.
And, both Scenic and Emerald have a “river cruise guarantee,” he
said: If a sailing is negatively impacted for a significant amount of time,
guests are typically compensated monetarily. He encouraged agents to reach out
to him with any questions or customer-service issues stemming from low water
levels.

The other big topic of the night was how agents,
particularly home-based independent contractors, can best connect with their
business development managers (BDMs).

One agent suggested first completing a supplier’s online
courses to get to know the product and listening to webinars.

Another agent suggested reaching out to their BDM as listed
on the supplier’s website, letting them know you’re a smaller agency and want
to forge a relationship with them.

Geoff Millar, co-owner of Ultimate All-Inclusive Travel in
Gilbert, Ariz., said agents who complete online courses and get in touch with
their BDM will often find BDMs have no problem setting up training.

“Make the effort and reach out,” Millar said.

Many times, BDMs don’t know the location of smaller agencies
or how to get in touch with them, he said. But if an agent takes the time to
reach out, “they’ll bend over backwards for you.”

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