An Ideal Time To Design Marketing & Sales Plans

By Mitchell J. Schlesinger

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Perhaps the single most over-used business cliché is; “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Over-used or not, it is critically true. August is an ideal time to thoughtfully develop marketing and promotional plans for cruises 18 months into the future. 


Of course, much of the planning depends on several factors:

  • Your traditional sales patterns by products
  • Demographics of your clientele, and prospect target audiences, particularly age, household size and life stages
  • Opportunity to direct existing clients to new destinations and itineraries


Purchase spend patterns

  • Ability to take advantage of new ships and destinations


All of this truly depends of what you sell the most; your “bread & butter”. Obviously, numerous agency organizations focus on mainstream destinations; Caribbean, Alaska, Mexican Riviera, etc. which represent almost 50% of cruise passengers. I also know agents who thrive on premium and luxury clients and worldwide destination itineraries, but still have fringe sales of mainstream products since these clients may also want these products as well for getaways and trips with family and friends.


Here is a review of products and planning cycles for sales opportunities over the next 18 months:

CARIBBEAN/BAHAMAS

There are 2 prominent opportunities:

  • The booking cycle for 3-7-night Caribbean and Bahamas cruises is the shortest of all trades. This keeps Fall sailings in play for clients who can book impulse travel and those perhaps looking to spend the holidays at sea. Fall can offer lower pricing and is good for bargain hunters.
  • The other prominent opportunity is the winter January-April sailings. Clients in northern regions of the country should be reminded that both winter and new ships are coming and to book ahead in order to secure the best staterooms, location on the ship, shore experiences, spa appointments, etc. And there will be early booking offers for the Caribbean.  Remember, national cruise month is in October.


EUROPE/MED/ALASKA

May-Oct can and has been be the most significant profit period for lines as reflected by the significant deployment throughout the Med, Baltic and Alaska. More lines are operating in all these regions and deploying new and bigger ships.

  • The lines have benchmarks for bookings for this period and begin offering early booking promotion in the fall in order to meet them. Targets include having 50% of the entire season booked by Jan1 and 80% by April 1st.   
  • If these destinations are part of your product mix, your clients have a variety of itineraries to choose from including east & west Med, Europe, Baltic, and 7-10-night cruises In Alaska, plus cruise-tours that enable to clients to see flora and wildlife in Alaska’s interior.
  • There are different ships for different types of clients depending on demographics, psychographics and spend patterns. Experiences are more immersive on smaller ships which can dock closer and visit ports that larger ships cannot. However, plenty of guests want the big ship amenities, so BE CAREFUL  to discuss the experiential differences and let the clients decide which one they want.


EXOTICS

The exotic seasons are focused based on seasonality and weather:

  • Antarctica sailings are Dec-Jan 
  • Australian summer is Jan-Mar
  • S.E. Asia itineraries (10+ days for Americans) are focused in Q1 & Q 4 to avoid the heat of the summer
  • S. America summer is in the fall.
  • While the demographic pattern is changing somewhat, these destinations and longer itineraries are still predominantly for audiences 55+, particularly seniors and retires who have more time, no restrictions to seasonality or holidays and the disposable income to spend on longer itineraries.
  • Best of all, they like to book well in advance, as far ahead as 18 months.   
  • A caution here from my days at Orient Lines; offer to sell travel insurance to these older  clients.  If they decline have them sign a waiver confirming that it was offered and declined.   BUT, before they decline, remind them that they are about to make a travel purchase of $5,000+ for a lengthy exotic trip and use the “Best Buy” analogy.   They buy protection plans for electronics and appliances and should really think about protecting themselves for unforeseen circumstances before they leave and during the trip.


FAMILY TRAVEL

Since the dramatic increase of both parents working and/or single parent households several decades ago, family travel has taken on more meaning. The desire to plan an interesting, fun and possibly educational vacation with children has been enhanced by the guilt parents feel for work being so critical. 

  • In most cases, family travel is focused on school holidays and the summer.   Planning becomes critical in order to secure space on holiday cruises and reasonable airfare where needed to get to summer cruises in Alaska or Europe.
  • It is important that you guide your family clients toward travel at specific calendar timeframes and alert them to special opportunities for children.   More and more families take teenage children to Europe/Med/Baltic in the summer, however on most ships there are not specific activities for children.   Although these days, all a teenager needs is a computer or working cell phone and they can keep themselves pretty occupied.  😊


The key point is; whether you have just a few key target audiences or wide array, it is valuable to plan out your promotional marketing for the key sailing seasons well in advance.   Once you have organized this plan you can augment with whatever value opportunities the cruise lines provide.   And remember to assign sales targets for each market and destination so that you can calculate if your plan is working or if it needs adjusting. That is the true value of planning ahead, so that you can succeed.