If one clear message came out of the first UK Cruise Convention in May, it was that agents must sell the right cruise to the right client.
With 1.2 million UK holiday-makers taking a cruise in 2006 and more ships on order, there has never been so much product on the market.
But for some, cruising is still a confusing area. So the cruise industry is investing thousands of pounds into ship visits, distributing marketing packs and offering face-to-face product training.
Online training programmes are also proving to be a popular source of information. Agents can complete courses in their own time, and interactivity makes the learning process more enjoyable.
Royal Caribbean International revamped its training site last month, adding a Captain’s Zone for those who have completed all other sections of the programme, which includes podcasts, vodcasts and a training game called Sail or No Sail.
For agents there can be little doubt about the benefits of improved product knowledge – according to Cruise Store sales and training executive Stuart Pearce, agents recognise it is the best way to increase cruise sales.
Pearce said: “When I go into stores for visits, agents always say that training and ship visits will help them to get to know their product and improve sales.”
Exeter Going Places agent Kate Ward agreed that online training works well for all agency staff.
“The main thing we want and need is training. I’ve never been on a cruise and I’m new to the travel industry so to get on ship visits is key. Learning as you go with an interactive online programme is good for everyone,” she said.
But is it the agent or the cruise company who should be steering the training? Instant Cruise homeworker and groups co-ordinator Andrew Mackie feels that although training is crucial, the responsibility is on the agent to initiate their own learning rather than the cruiseline.
He said: “Most people don’t understand cruising. They have to learn it is not as difficult to grasp as they think. Training is there to help agents secure cruise sales.
“The way forward for the high-street agent is to have a cruise specialist in each branch. It is all about having the confidence to sell.
“Travel agents should talk to each other about what is going on in the marketplace,” he added.
Training and development body the Association of Cruise Experts – formerly the Passenger Shipping Association Retail Agents Scheme and – features programmes from other cruiselines on its website, and has seen a 25% increase in agent uptake since the beginning of this year.
ACE hosts roadshows and classroom training. It also organises the Elite Training Academy.
Business development director Andy Harmer said: “From an agents’ point of view, they want a variety of learning choices. Training is up to the agent as much as the cruiseline, but the operators should ensure the courses are tailored to suit everybody’s needs.”