Relationships & Loyalty; Keys To Success

By Mitchell J. Schlesinger


There are significant developments in the cruise industry that present burgeoning sales and profit-based opportunities for savvy travel sellers. The order book is filled with new and interesting ships being introduced over the next 5 years, there is rapid expansion of ships and itineraries to exotic, soft adventure and enrichment focused destinations and ship configurations that continues to provide upsell opportunities to customers and prospects.

Critical to taking advantage of all this development is the ability to leverage relationships and loyalty with both preferred suppliers and customers. I have written numerous articles and co-authored a book focusing on “Clients for Life”, and always start with the three R’s; 

Recognition, Referrals & Rewards:

  • Your customers must constantly be engaged. The truth is, that if they are not buying travel from you, they are buying it from someone else. The objective is to make them “Clients for Life” once they book with you initially.

  • Recognition presents the opportunity to sell both directly and subliminally. 

  1. Specific messaging with specific itineraries/offers that recognize past travel makes customers feel like you are communicating to them one-on-one.
  2. Notes recognizing birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc., even without selling directly, still has sales impact.
  3. Featuring customer photos and reactions after returning from trips on your website is another way to make them feel special and become a 3rd party endorsement.

  • Referrals are the lifeblood of successful sales, particularly in the travel selling industry. With the right communication and incentives, loyal customers become sales adjuncts for your agency.

  • Rewards are effective and do not have to break the bank:

  1. Customers should receive a future cruise credit for all guests they refer.
  2. The FCC can be scaled based on what is purchased either in terms of dollars, cruise length or stateroom type. 
  3. Just like the communication they receive from hotel and airline loyalty programs, all communication should include how much credit is available in their “bank” for a future cruise. 
  4. Remember, it is significantly less expensive to generate new customers via referrals/rewards than via marketing.

Relationships with preferred suppliers is more of a 2-way street and is very much about how much favor and leverage you can develop;

  • The more you support specific preferred suppliers, the more concentrated and productive your time, marketing and sales efforts can be.

  • The more sales, guests and revenue provided to specific suppliers for specific destinations puts you in the focus of BDMs, regional directors and even cruise line revenue management teams.

  • Here is something to keep in mind. In addition to individual guest sales, your value to your cruise partners can be greatly enhanced based on group bookings, particularly the conversion:

  1. If you register a group request for 25 staterooms/ 50 guests and eventually provide 40 guests, that is an 80% conversion rate. The overall average of group conversion at cruise lines (excluding incentive groups) falls in the 10%-20% range.
  2. If you consistently register groups that convert at 50% + you will be noticed by the cruise line revenue management team.
  3. This gives you leverage with your preferred suppliers when you want extras for your guests, group terms, upgrades, OBC’s, etc. 
  4. It also gives your BDM ammunition to support you with revenue management.
  5. AND, I promise this happens, the more groups you provide for specific destinations at positive conversion rates, the revenue management team will reach out to your BDM to make sure the business continues, and even offer incentives to generate more groups.

  • With substantial support for preferred suppliers, you have the opportunity to be invited to company events like ship introductions, where you can meet company executives and discuss ways to enhance business further. 

The most successful companies excel at developing relationships and loyalty with customers, particularly with distribution partners/preferred suppliers and eventual consumer purchasers. And it is critical that this approach is an instinct to you and all members of your team. Every single contact is a judged experience, no matter the size of the company. While we usually think about this in terms of big companies, there is a small grocery chain, Stew Leonard, based in the northeast, that qualifies as a top service provider in Forbes and Fortune magazine rankings. Use this example as motivation to enhance your relationships with customers and travel partners to elevate your sales.