Sharing the Differences — Creating the Best Experiences

By Cindy Bertram

Today people get inundated with so much information on a daily basis. When they’re trying to make a decision about a purchase, they do research online, reach out to others, check online reviews and more. The “information overload” is even truer when it comes to making a decision about taking a trip – whether it’s an ocean or river cruise, a land tour, or domestic and international packages. As travel agent professionals, how do we best differentiate ourselves to our clients, existing ones as well as potential ones, by showing we can reduce that “information overload”? We do that exploratory work with them. By asking questions, and learning more as we listen to their responses? We’re then able to share the unique differences between these different products and showing what the best fit is for them. The result? We are creating the best travel experiences for our clients.


A recent example

While on the phone recently with someone who was a referral, he was trying to figure out the best surprise trip option for his girlfriend.  He was going to propose to her on this trip, so this made it more of a bigger decision. While we talked, I asked questions, listened carefully to his answers, and got a better pulse of what he and his girlfriend enjoyed doing. As I went over two different trip options, I also made sure I shared their unique differences. Then he said, “After everything we’ve talked about and with what you shared, I really feel this one is the best fit.”  And I got the booking lined up.

Insights from Steve Simao, Vice President of Sales, Windstar Cruises

Windstar Cruises continues to bring amazing unique experiences to cruise travelers, along with their commitment to travel agent professionals.  I had a chance to talk with Steve Simao, Vice President of Sales for Windstar Cruises.  He oversees both the international sales and domestic sales in his role at Windstar Cruises and has worked in the cruise industry for over 20 years. In our conversation, we covered several areas, including key things that differentiates Windstar Cruises as well as key tips for travel agent professionals to use.

The ideal guest who sails on Windstar Cruises

I mentioned to Steve that Windstar Cruises focuses on and is known for providing its guests with an intimate luxury experience, having six sailing and all suite ships that accommodate no more than 310 guests.  Then I asked Steve, “How would you best describe the ideal guest that would sail on Windstar Cruises?”   Steve said, “Windstar guests are travelers and not tourists.  They are very destination minded and true bucket list travelers.  They are adventurous and are seeking true, authentic experiences away from the crowds.  They are upscale, but not showy and while they appreciate and can afford the finer things in life they like to travel in comfort without the formality.”

Steve then went on and explained, “For example, rather than see a port of call from the comfort of a private car and driver, a Windstar guest would rather be guided with a group of 4-6 other like-minded guests on a walk through the back streets of Rome or on a hike into the Costa Rican rainforest.”

Key things to keep in mind when going through potential clients

Steve and I then focused on key things that a travel advisor should keep in mind when it comes to their portfolio of potential clients and possible fits sailing on Windstar Cruises.  Steve explained, “Windstar guests are couples.  And often couples traveling with other couples.  A great way to upsell is to ask if they are traveling with anyone else that the travel advisor can also book.  Windstar guests may be cruisers who have traveled on larger ships and want to get away from the crowds.  But similarly they may be people who would never have considered a cruise or river cruisers.”

I then asked Steve, “What makes Windstar Cruises a bit more unique and different from others?”  Steve said, “Windstar Cruises is true small ship cruising.  With each of our ships 300 guests or less we are truly able to provide personalized travel experiences for each of our guests.  As other cruise lines in the small ship realm are building bigger ships of 600+ guests our ships remain the size where we can provide unique experiences.  For example, each of our meals is cooked a la minute in our galleys.  Or because of our size we are able to still offer an open bridge which allows our guests to visit the ship’s navigation bridge while at sea and connect with our officers and understand how the ship is being sailed.”

Key differences travel agent professionals should know about Windstar Cruises 

Steve and I then covered more about the benefits Windstar Cruises provides due the size of their ships. Windstar Cruises is known for bringing people closer to places that other cruise lines can’t get to, because of their larger ships.  I asked Steve, “Can you share a bit more?” Steve explained, “I think the best example of this is our new Signature Expedition Program which debuted this year in Alaska.  This program includes 6 expedition leaders on the ship from Marine Biologists to Botanists to Glaciologists who do lectures and then actually accompany our guests on zodiac and kayak trips that are launched right from the ship.   This is in places like Misty Fjords National Park where our ship literally sails into the fjord vs. the big ships which do shore excursions from Ketchikan.”   

Travel Immersion with rich itineraries

The area of travel immersion was the next area Steve and I discussed. I mentioned that Windstar Cruises is known for providing a travel immersion experience and there are some key things they provide that travel agent professionals should be aware of as they work with clients. These include overnight and late night port calls, Signature Expeditions, cultural activities, being more port intensive. 

Steve said, “First time to Windstar guests will often choose our brand because of our rich itineraries. We carefully craft these itineraries to include a mix of marquis ports which are on everyone’s bucket list along with what we refer to as hidden harbors which offer truly unique and authentic experiences far from the crowds.  We will often be the only ship in port or, if we are in port together with a big ship we will typically dock much closer to the action like in downtown St. Petersburg Russia vs. being docked out at a container shipping terminal.  This is why Windstar’s itineraries will often include a number of tender ports because many of the ports we visit don’t maintain docking facilities but still have a lot to offer our guests.”

Steve then explained a bit more and said, “Our shore excursion program is designed to allow our guests to truly experience a port of call.  For example, I took a tour in Costa Rica to a chocolate farm.  We traveled with 10 guests and the tour was led by the owner of the farm himself who had inherited his family business.  This wasn’t a hired tour guide – this was a true Costa Rican farmer telling about how he supports his family with his farm.   Our new concierge collection of tours are truly immersive one of a kind experiences.”

 Another part of Windstar Cruises’ immersion efforts is offering some extended stays on their itineraries, staying longer with two-night stops at some ports. Steve said, “Our Asia cruises are really great examples of itineraries that offer these extended stays.  My personal bucket list itinerary is the Icons of Southeast Asia itinerary.  On this itinerary we offer 4 ports of call in Vietnam, 3 of which offer overnight stays.  The overnight in Halong Bay is designed that guests can access the beautiful historical city of Hanoi on the first day and still enjoy the beauty and landscapes of Halong Bay on the second day.”

Another part of the Windstar Cruises experience — Innovative culinary programs

Steve and I then talked about Windstar Cruises’ innovative culinary programs, including its exclusive partnership with the James Beard Foundation. I asked Steve, “Can you share a bit more about this, your partnership and what’s involved?”

 Steve explained, “We are the exclusive cruise line partnership with the James Beard Foundation.  We elected rather than partner with one particular chef in one particular genre that we would partner with a leading organization in the culinary arena offering more variety of experiences and tastes for our guests.  As part of the program a number of renowned chefs travel on culinary themed cruises doing cooking demonstrations onboard and interacting with our guests.”

Then Steve shared more, and said, “On other voyages where a chef may not be present, our guests still have the ability to taste some of the unique flavors as our partnership allows us to incorporate recipes into the regular menu cycles. Outside of the James Beard partnership we also do offer local market tours with the ship’s executive chef. Because we source a number of ingredients locally, our guests can join our chefs as they go into the market in search of local seafood, vegetables, cheeses, etc. It’s a fun experience and then it all comes to life when you see the items you shopped for served that evening onboard.”

In 2019 Windstar Cruises has some special James Beard Foundation Culinary Themed Cruises scheduled.

Suggestions for travel agent professionals - Windstar Cruises’ differences

Steve and I went through a recap of what makes the Windstar Cruise experience more unique for their guests, both onboard as well when they’re off the ships in diverse destinations. We covered suggestions he could provide to travel agent professionals regarding the differences Windstar Cruises offers, ways to share and then sell this to their clients, creating the best experiences.

Steve explained, “I think the key for travel agents is to understand their clients and matching them with the right brand.  Windstar guests are well traveled and are looking for true, in-depth travel experiences.  I encourage travel agents to review the day to day itineraries and the unique shore excursions we offer and the amount of time we offer in port.  We deliver destinations so that these travelers get to see what they are traveling to see.   We have carefully designed our deployment so that our sailing ships are more often in the tropics – areas such as Tahiti, Caribbean, Mediterranean and the Greek Isles.  These ships have lots of open deck space and are perfectly designed for these types of programs.  Our all-suite Star Class ships on the other hand are doing more worldwide deployment and cooler destinations like Alaska, Asia, Canada New England, Northern Europe, and Iceland.”

Last thoughts

Today the world is not a “one size fits all.” And when it comes to our clients as well as potential ones, making sure we understand their needs, what’s important to them, and what they want to experience when traveling on a vacation is critical. Once we know that, we can highlight and share the differences, so they make the best choice. From there?  This results in our creating the best experiences for them. And this is another positive for travel agent professionals being seen as the experts.