Agents who avoid the pitfalls can cash in on cruise promotions, says Phil Nutall, MD of Travel Village Group

Another year, another wave period for the cruise industry. Is it just me or do we find ourselves scrabbling for last year’s campaigns and price grids to try to work out exactly how different the messages are, if at all?

What effect is Brexit having on pricing? Just what is included in an ‘all-inclusive’ drinks package? And when and where do we focus our own marketing campaigns?

Who would be a cruise retailer in January? The reality, of course, is that I would, if for no other reason than because we have something very special to sell to our clients. Something that when sold to the right people for the right reasons, takes them on an exciting journey of anticipation, preparation, experience, new friendships and unforgettable memories.

Promote the right offers

For many agents, wave starts in November when all the hard work and preparation is done, with deadlines from printers and mailing houses looming in mid-December. But come January it’s like a game of chess where the wrong move can be a costly mistake and a missed opportunity.

Agents must stay focused. It is easy to get distracted by campaign messages and competitor activity. Bigger isn’t always better. Smaller agents can sneak under the radar and gain advantages if they know their product and have a good working relationship with the cruise line. It’s about being clever and knowing your customer database because wave can offer some huge advantages under these circumstances.

For some aspects of wave, the jury is still out. Myself, and other agents I have spoken to, share reservations about low deposits; does it encourage impulse buys where reality hits home further down the line and cancellations start to appear? Agents put a great deal of work into securing a booking and receiving a fair deposit to represent a customer’s commitment to travel is something we should embrace. Facilitating soft cancellations on high ticket prices is something we should be cautious of.

Justify the higher prices

It’s no real surprise to see higher prices in the market at this time of year, especially when you see what effect Brexit has had on exchange rates. This has hit home recently with the unfortunate collapse of All Leisure Group, a reminder that low pricing is not sustainable. Despite this being a competitive market, price rises are inevitable. Agents must support and justify higher prices to sustain long‑term business, because cruising consistently offers the best value in the hotel industry. With lines becoming more inclusive in their promotions, consumers are still getting a great deal.

I am a great believer in fam trips. Agents should use them to build up excitement of a product, share their experiences through social media and then endeavour to provide a return on the operators’ investment.

Thanks to Clia there has never been more awareness of the variety of cruises available. And thanks to the cruise lines there is almost two years of inventory waiting for agents to find their niche and tap into it to make this year their best wave yet.