The recent back to back catastrophic hurricanes that first went through the Caribbean, and then moved inland were scary. And as we watched the news coverage, it brought genuine concern for people in the areas that were hit and affected. Yes, it halted transportation — canceling flights, cruise departures and more. But the travel industry jumped in immediately to help out through diverse ways. Travel agent professionals worked diligently helping their clients, from rescheduling, redirecting, and rebooking, using contacts, leveraging help from suppliers and more. It did give new meaning to the idea of successfully navigating the through the storms.
Learning and Having that Back-Up Plan
In life as well as in the business world, it’s important to have a back-up plan. That’s even more critical in travel. Putting together a strategy plan to handle emergency situations is part of what we do as travel professionals. Having that list of key contact names, phone numbers and contact information for the suppliers we use is a core part. And having this ready to use can reduce a bit of the stress, letting us jump in quickly.
When the tragedies of 9/11 took place and the world literally stopped, this really brought a new meaning to having that back-up plan. I was working at a retail full service travel agency at the time. It was truly unexpected. We had clients who were stranded, with flight cancellations and more. But thanks to our “jump in and do it” mindset, we managed to get our clients taken care of using diverse methods. And at the agency, we then worked harder with a bit more of a formal emergency strategy plan.
Another Part of the Strategy Plan – Enticing People to Travel Again
After 9/11 tragedies, another unexpected situation occurred. People became hesitate to travel and began to “cocoon.” Rather than planning trips to escape, some people stopped traveling, instead spending the money they had set aside to buy “things” - possessions. What I did do to combat that? I began doing a monthly newsletter, sharing updates along with fun tips, working to entice peoples’ interest. I make sure I didn’t use this media piece to “sell cruises and travel.” And it worked. Eventually the people who were hesitant to travel decided it was time to travel again, realizing that creating those memories of a lifetime were also important. And collecting those memories became more important than collecting “things.” I had a set of clients who cocooned for a year. But as a result of my newsletter, they decided to travel again.
Insights from Camille Olivere, Senior Vice President, Sales, Norwegian Cruise Line
As we’ve once again recently seen, cruise lines monitor tropical storms and hurricanes, making sure they keep their ships outside those storm paths. Cruise lines have policies in place as they work to keep their ships and people safe. Camille Olivere, Senior Vice President, Sales, Norwegian Cruise Line and I recently had some time to chat about these topics. I asked Camille how Norwegian Cruise Line monitored storms along with keeping travel agents informed. Camille explained, “We monitor tropical storms and hurricanes ensuring the safety of our ships, crew and guest. In the event that we must deviate a sailing notification is sent out to guest and travel partners via email, voice reach and text. Should the need arise where a sailing is cancelled we will offer 100% refund. If a guest chooses to cancel due to the weather they are subject to normal cancellation penalties.”
Keeping Ships Away from the Storms and Updates with Travel Agent Partners
Camille and I then discussed a bit more about what cruise lines do, including Norwegian Cruise Line, when a hurricane/tropical storm is actually in the area of the return port of call. Norwegian Cruise Line went through this with Hurricane Irma, delaying ships from returning to PortMiami. Getting those ships with their guests and crew safely back is a top key concern. I asked Camille, “How did Norwegian Cruise Line keep their travel agent partners updated through this particular situation?”
Camille provided more and explained, “We typically make these decisions as a team so we communicate to the trade immediately after we make the decision. We heard from many partners that we were best in class in terms of transparency and communication timing. That is one of the most important aspects of successfully managing through crises, so we are very pleased that travel partners recognized this.”
How Travel Agents can handle emergency situations
Having worked in the cruise and travel agency industry for several years, Camille has seen successful tactics that travel agents use to help their clients, when these unexpectedly emergency situations come up. I asked Camille to share a bit more, and she mentioned, “My personal view is honesty is the best policy. Keeping customers in the loop with what you know is very important. I think the telephone works better than email with customers. If you want to communicate something, pick up the phone so they can ask you questions and you can give them more color on the situation and past experiences.”
Compensation for Guests Affected and how that is handled
Then Camille and I chatted a bit more on the area of compensation for guests affected when an unexpected situation evolves, like the recent hurricanes this fall. I asked Camille, “What have you been providing cruise guests who were affected?”
Camille explained, “Compensation varied based on the timing of the cancellation and we don’t have any flat stated policy as we factor in everything, but we want our customers to come back so we are very focused on taking good care of them. Sometimes it can be a windfall for the guest when a cruise is cancelled because they could get a full refund and a bunch of goodies on top of it that will help offset the next vacation.”
Dealing with Clients Who Now Might Be Hesitant to Travel – Suggestions
Camille and her team talk with travel agents on an ongoing basis, from sales calls, and being at travel conferences, along with being at their own specially planned events. Camille and I then covered a bit more - the important role travel agents also play, being on the front line, dealing with their clients along with future clients on a day to day basis.
I asked Camille, “What suggestions would you provide to travel agents when it comes to how to best handle the question their clients now might ask when booking a cruise vacation? If their clients had been thinking about taking a cruise but now with the recent hurricanes, might hesitate, being concerned about their safety?”
Camille said, “I just had this conversation with some people who had never cruised. What I told them is what I think agents should say and that is this was the worst hurricane season in over 100 years. The likelihood of something like this season happening again next year is extremely low. Some people don’t know there is a hurricane season. I told them hurricanes are most likely in Sept/Oct timeframe with August and November on the fringe. Also hurricanes are fairly predictable so you know well in advance any areas of concern. Safety is not an issue. It’s inconvenience that is caused by changes in itineraries or delays and on rare occasions a cancellation. If a hurricane is coming we can typically reroute the ship to optimal conditions. We can also have early departures or arrivals to accommodate. So guests can make a more informed decision.”
Adding that Personal Touch
Adding that personal touch factor is important. I mentioned that cruise documents list all their policies in the "fine print" but it's important that travel agents walk through those key things (more on a personal basis) with their clients. Camille said, “I would just restate the above. Clients need to know they are committed to the cruise even if there are some changes that need to be made. When you have your guests on Norwegian you can be sure that we are always looking to make sure that our guests will have the best experience possible so they come back again and again. On some of our itineraries we even added a 4th port to a 7 day itinerary when we changed it which enhances the guest experience.”
Camille and I then talked a bit more about what Norwegian Cruise Line did by redirecting their Norwegian Sky to St. Thomas, not just bringing supplies but also getting over 900+ people evacuated off island (due to the airport being shut down) and back to Miami safely. I mentioned it was a wonderful amazing story, and shared the personal, caring side of Norwegian Cruise Line and their parent company. Camille said, “Yes, thank you. I was very proud of our company and we continue to help through our charity “Hope Starts Here”. And by the way, it wasn’t just humans we rescued. There were dogs, cats and Ferrets as well! No one wanted to leave their beloved pets behind! I know I would never!”
Some additional thoughts
After the recent hurricanes’ devastation, we saw some wonderful humanitarian efforts occur, thanks to the travel and cruise industry. And now many of those ports and areas affected are coming back. Letting people know that those areas have gotten through those storms is also another important part of our travel agent DNA – keeping our clients and future clients informed with “gentle” updates, creating and building interest again.
What comes to mind when you think of the word “family.” The first thoughts of your personal family probably come to mind – parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Beyond the personal component, today we have communities in our business world, and they are part of a “family.”
In the business world we create and belong to business communities. A few examples are meet-up groups, and networking business groups, where people come together to learn more about each other, grow that bond, and perhaps find ways to work together.
When it comes to the travel industry, it’s important that we think of ourselves as part of a special business family where we can reach out to others to exchange ideas, learn and also partner together.
More about the “family”
When I first began working in the travel industry, I immediately jumped on training as well as attending travel and cruise conferences. While at those conferences I met terrific people, from other travel agent professionals to key suppliers as well as diverse industry leaders. And I made sure I kept in touch with them. Locally, I also began to build another part of the “family” including another agency owner whose expertise was in a different arena. We also did some partnering together and didn’t view each other as competitors.
The growth of more genuine business networking events continues, and this is a way to also grow your business “family.”
I’ve been fortunate to know JD Gershbein, one of the world’s top LinkedIn strategists, and a widely recognized thought leader in personal branding and social networking.
As a social business psychologist, keynote speaker, and broadcast media personality, he has gained widespread recognition as a thought leader in the areas of personal branding, social networking, and video storytelling. JD has been featured on FOX TV News, CBS News, WGN TV News, and WGN Radio, and is also a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Forbes. On October 26, 2017, JD did his first The Big Banter, best described as a Social Business Variety Show at the Hard Rock Café in Chicago. It was a tremendous, fun, diverse event and I made some terrific new business contacts there as I continue to build my “business family.”
Insights from Eva Jenner, Vice President, Sales at Holland America Line and Seabourn
Eva Jenner has been working at Holland America Line and Seabourn since 2005, where she was Director and Assistant General Counsel, a role she had for 8 years. Prior to joining Holland America Line and Seabourn, Eva had worked in the legal industry after getting her JD from Syracuse University College of Law. Then in August 2013, Eva moved into her current role as Vice President, Sales and finds this so rewarding and exciting.
The Business Family Pulse
When Eva and I talked, I mentioned that in the cruise industry we really see more of a “business family” pulse. While on different panels at cruise and travel conferences, the cruise industry management executives have a very genuine, very positive synergy. It doesn’t matter that they’re on a panel with “competitors” so to speak. I asked Eva, “Why do you thing this occurs?”
Eva explained, “The cruise industry is very close. Most of us know each other well and have worked in this business for many years. I’m especially close to my counterparts at the various Carnival Corp. brands, particularly my “sisters,” Adolfo Perez (Carnival Cruise Line) and John Chernesky (Princess Cruises) and you may have noticed the great relationship we have on some industry panels. That being said, all of us in the cruise industry know that building a positive environment for cruising benefits all of us – the cruise lines and the travel agents. There is amazing potential for new cruisers, which is the objective of every single cruise line in terms of cultivating new business. But make no mistake, we are also very competitive for the business that is ours. At Holland America Line, we know our guests and potential guests and we work very hard to help travel agents understand how to reach this group of cruisers for the mutual benefit of both.”
More on the “Brothers and Sisters”
While at conferences herself, Eva has mentioned how she has the “best brothers and sisters” in her job. And this goes back to the different cruise lines under the Carnival Corporation & plc. From Costa, Carnival Cruise Line, and Princess Cruises, to Holland America Line, Cunard Line and Seabourn, these are wonderful, diverse options travel agent professionals can offer to their clients, and they complement each other. I asked Eva, “What comes to your mind as far as a ‘business family’ and how that works?”
Eva said, “You are correct in that the Carnival Corp. family of cruise lines is the best family around. Between the many brands under the Carnival umbrella, there are ultra-luxury to premium and mass to unique international opportunities to cruise. And as one big happy family, we can also help travel agents find contacts at our sister lines. At Holland America Line, our field sales representatives also represent Seabourn to travel agents so we are happy to cover the finest premium and ultra-luxury brands with them to build sales, reach potential clients and provide continuing education. We just launched the Holland America Line trade promise to reinforce our commitment to travel agents as well. We are “committed to your success.™”
The need for travel agent professionals to build their “Business Family”
When it comes to travel agents, they also need to build their “business family.” This can range from preferred suppliers that agents develop ongoing relationships with, along with other friendly competitors - other professionals in the travel agency community. I asked Eva, “What are best ways to work with other travel professionals? One that comes to mind is reaching out to another professional who might have expertise in area that travel agent might not have - finding ways to work together.”
Eva provided more insights and said, “You alluded to one certainly. I think it’s a great start for a travel agent to know the thought leaders and the success stories. There is a lot of great research, articles, publications and seminars or cruise shows to help them learn about the leaders and the consortia and groups that might best benefit them as an individual agency. Travel agents should also bring into their family the local BDM so that they can work together to brainstorm and create a business plan. Each travel agent is unique so there is no one solution, but there are plenty of opportunities that provide networking opportunities and continuing education to help agencies that are just starting out to build a “business family.”
Being on the same side of the desk
Eva and I then talked a bit more about a phrase I’ve run across in business - “Being on the same side of the desk.” When it comes to travel agent professionals and their clients, I mentioned to Eva that I felt this holds true. It’s about the client making the best decisions for what they want and desire as far as their cruise vacation with travel agent listening and guiding them through. Eva and I talked a bit more and I asked her if she had any suggestions on what travel agents can do best to make sure they are “on the same side of the desk” with their clients.
Eva shared more, and said, “The best thing for a travel agent to do is get plenty of training and education in the selling process, how to qualify clients and how to close sales. Sometimes it seems simple, but it is a skill and it really boils down to putting your clients’ wishes first. Being on the same side of the desk really means listening to your clients’ preferences and desires and understanding what they are looking for in a vacation.”
Eva then went on and mentioned, “For example, your clients may have really enjoyed a Holland America Line cruise to Alaska with their extended family last year, but this year they are looking for a vacation as a couple where they can get some sun in a more intimate, luxurious setting. While a Caribbean cruise on Holland America Line may be right for the couple, the travel agent should discuss the possibility of going on a Caribbean cruise on Seabourn. In order to ensure that a travel agent’s clients enjoy their cruise vacation and trust the advice of their travel agent, we need to ensure that the clients are put on the right cruise line for their vacation.”
Personalization is also a key area that travel agent professionals do best and excel at. I asked Eva, “Do you have a suggestion or two that you’ve seen successful travel agents practice when it comes to personalization?”
Eva said, “We have several travel agents that remember birthdates and anniversaries for their clients and regularly send cards, but more importantly send notes well in advance to suggest planning for that special event in their life.” She then explained, “Additionally, I’ve seen agents who have personalized a package for their clients prior to a vacation with the necessary travel documents and gifts that the clients can use on their trip (for example, sunscreen for a Caribbean cruise).”
The need to keep connected in real time
Eva and I then talked a bit about how in today’s digital world, people rely on their mobile devises. It’s a way to keep connected in real time. But what travel agents do best is to have and provide that much needed personal touch. They share their expertise, as well as insuring that their clients’ true desires with their trip are not going to just be met, but go beyond their expectations. I asked Eva, “Can you share any tips on what travel agents should also be doing?”
Eva immediately said, “Social Media! Almost everyone I know is on at least one social media platform. Share your clients’ photographs and experiences from the vacations that you planned for them on social media. Have your existing clients write recommendations. Your other clients (and potential clients) will see the wonderful vacations you created, and reach out to you when they are ready to plan their vacations. Travel agents also have to understand that every client is different in the way they want to communicate with their travel agents. Some enjoy talking over the phone, but others may only want to communicate via text or email. Be flexible in the way you communicate. So long as you continue to pay attention to the details and the little extras, you will have clients for life. It’s all about the little extras and paying attention to the details. “
As travel agents work to grow their client base, building their own “business family” is also a needed component. Bringing in and working with their local Business Development Manager (BDM) is one. Taking advantage of networking opportunities, developing strong genuine partnerships, learning about groups, consortia and leaders that can help them are others. And these are all great ideas to then put into action.