Monday, 8 September 2014

Cruise Value

Selling Cruise Value: Watch Out!
By Kelly Monaghan

One of the great things about selling cruises is that the customer pays one price and everything is included. So going in, the customer knows what he or she will be spending.

Well, maybe.

The fact is that cruises have never been truly "all-inclusive." There was the issue of port taxes, which could add hundreds of dollars to the cost of a cruise. Thankfully, these are now being quoted by cruise lines as part of the price, taking a burden off the agent.

Then there's the beverage exception. Beer, wine, hard liquor, and even soft drinks cost extra. And the prices charged for these "extras" are "competitive" with onshore bars and restaurants which means they are sold at a steep markup. Of course, teetotalers who stuck to iced tea and coffee make out like bandits under this system. (There's an idea: Target your non-drinking clients as hot prospects for cruising!)

Shore excursions are another added expense on most cruises that can add anywhere from $25 to $100 or more a day to the cost of a cruise. And let us not forget tips for the crew. My own experience is that I am in such an expansive mood by the end of a cruise that I hardly notice the extra money flowing out of my wallet.

Still, these were "standard" exceptions that most experienced cruisers understood perfectly well. And they were simple and straightforward enough for agents to explain them simply, quickly and clearly to novice cruisers. A cruise, along with the all-inclusive resort, was still a vacation product where you could very easily communicate the cost/value ratio to your customers.

Unfortunately, that's not quite as true these days as it once was.

Many cruise lines have started down the slippery slope of a la carte pricing. On Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas, you will pay extra to play miniature golf, to sweat your way up and rappel down the artificial climbing cliff, to ice skate, and even for fancy coffee.

Even the time-honored cruise line lure of three (or four, or five) "free" meals a day, with their multiplicity of courses, and staggering dessert choices is no longer quite what it used to be. A major trend in cruising is the "alternate restaurant." One idea is to provide alternatives for those who don't want a seven-course, three-hour sit-down meal. Another idea is to make some money in the process. Typically that means a "cover charge" or a "mandatory tip" added to the customer's shipboard account. The "ouch factor" for those who don't pay attention can be considerable.

So what's a poor travel agent to do? Here are some suggestions:

• Educate yourself. Call your regional sales managers and ask them for a complete breakdown of all the extras, by ship, for their line. If necessary, visit the ships yourself to get a feeling for how these extra charges play out in practice so you can better advise your customers. (Rats, it looks like you'll have to take some more fam trips!)

• Educate your clients. You owe it to your clients to explain to them very carefully that some of the things they see prominently displayed in those Voyager of the Seas brochures are not included in the quoted fare. You may want to use this as an opportunity to provide value-added service to your clients by providing them with a short course in holding down cruising costs. Make it a brochure or a handout. Make it a general overview or specific to a ship or cruise line.

• Don't gloss over these extra costs. Resist the temptation to skip lightly over (or past) this issue. Presumably, the reason you might do this is fear of losing the sale or making this super vacation look less appealing. Omissions like that have a way of coming back to bite you. Better to handle it both upfront and like a pro, which bring us to . . .

• Work harder to establish the cost/value ratio. These new pricing policies makes it a little harder to establish a clear picture of the cost/value ratio for your customers. But it can -- and should -- be done. Cruising still represents an excellent value when compared to similar vacations that are truly a la carte. Those of you who have my home study course will know all about the cost/value ratio. For others, see the following article.

• Practice your skills. This added level of complexity in cruise pricing should prove no great obstacle to agents who know how to effectively present travel products and handle their customer's concerns. Those of you who have the home study course may want to review Module 3, “How To Sell Travel Like a Pro,” paying special attention to the discussion of how to handle cost concerns.

Posted by Alex W Fraser

Take care and God Bless
Alex W Fraser

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