Masterclass: CLIA Australasia’s head of training talks about selling cruise

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Peter Kollar, CLIA Australasia’s head of training and development, shares his tips with Peter Lynch on how agents should sell Southeast Asians on cruise.

What do you think is the main challenge facing agents selling cruise in 2017?

• There are two challenges that travel agents in the Asian region will now face with so much inventory on their doorsteps.

Firstly, overcoming client apprehension. I see this in Asia more than any other market. A client will only ever hesitate about a cruise purchase because of the outdated image in their mind, making the client uncomfortable with the purchase. This may be that cruise is an expensive holiday, or that it is confining, or there is nothing to do. A savvy agent, one that knows how the cruise experience has changed dramatically even in the past five years, can re-tell the story so that new imagery evokes an emotional connection. They use pictures, videos, and other media to help illustrate concerns along with positive and sincere dialogue. Confidence in dialogue is best overcome by actual experience, so all agents should do their best to experience a cruise and partake in ship inspections. It’s one thing to see nice pictures in brochures, it’s another to feel the synergy of how all the features flow into an individual holistic holiday experience.

The other challenge is the diversity of product that is now present in Asian waters. It can be confusing at first, but the more an agent can commit to learning about the industry, who the players are, and the differentiation between the products, the better they will be equipped to match their clients and their individual needs.

Could you give us a breakdown of the different passenger segments in the Asian cruise market – and what agents need to do to convince them to cruise?

• The one thing that is consistent in Asian cruise reports and other regions is that age statistics are now so spread across the spectrum that age-related segments are void.

Segmentation should be distributed amongst the categories of contemporary, premium, and ultra-luxury experiences. You can throw in river cruising (still untapped in Asia) and expedition cruising. As far as these big three segments are concerned, agents need to concentrate on experiences.

Contemporary lines tend to have large to resort-style ships that can accommodate so many features and new experiences. An agent’s knowledge of these will help them sell contemporary cruise brands.

Ultra-luxury clients focus on the service and inclusion elements of the cruise, so agents need to understand what luxury is. It’s definitely not the beautiful chandelier hanging in the atrium – all ships have that.

Know how service and inclusions completely change the atmosphere of
a cruise. Agents need to find the right equilibrium with the premium segment, one that has a nice balance of features (which mid-size to large ships can accommodate) to the luxury price points they can provide. Understanding the nuances of all three experiences will help an agent convince clients to cruise – so know your client!

What do you feel Asians look for: the ship; the destination; the activities? And how do agents sell this diversity? 

• I understand Asian statistics point more towards the ship experience, but I think this is because of the number of short cruises on offer. Overall I believe there is no stereotype, as aggressive deployment will change these statistics to cover all three aspects.

Is Asianisation of ships important to help agents get across the cruise message? Is this about language, food, activities like gaming or shows? Or is there something else?

• Asianisation is important, as we found
in our own market with Aussification. Modifying the cruise experience, whether
re-designing layout, bringing familiar local suppliers onboard, or creating activities and services that passengers are used to, are all important in creating a comfort level that sits between ‘never cruised before’ and ‘taking the leap’. It allows passengers to ease into cruising, as Jennifer Vanderkreeke, Vice President of Carnival Australia, once explained in regards to Australians embracing the once-American-designed Carnival Spirit. Although the first year of year-round deployment was successful, many lessons were learnt from the passengers about what they wanted, and an even greater Aussification adaptation was then brought in so that now, it is the perfect balance of home creature comforts and trying things that are new and exotic.

When you are training agents in Asia,
what’s the overarching message you give about selling cruise?

• Putting aside the product and destination experience that a cruise holiday provides, you have to remember first and foremost that purchasing is a universal behaviour, and a good seller is one that can get their client emotionally connected to what they are selling. However, they can’t do this if they don’t understand the motives of their client (the reason they want to go on a holiday), or the experience they want (what are their needs and expectations).

This qualifying period is so crucial in sales, and unfortunately with society’s online culture evolution, this communication art form is slowly disappearing. If this continues, then the client experience will all come down to finding the right price online and an agent’s role starts to diminish.

To overcome this an agent has to find ways to be relevant, not only by engaging with online mediums and creating virtual communities, but also transferring online queries to offline, as people still have a natural affinity to buy from people.

How has agent training changed over the last 12 months?

• On the surface not much has changed in Asia, though we have spent the year behind the scenes planning a structure that addresses a better cruise training focus.

Asia is a very tough market for Westerners to understand; there are major differences in retail culture even amongst nations close together, distribution channels all vary, business models are dissimilar, and key partnerships play a large role in getting our resources to the many front line types.
It has so many variables compared to other traditional source markets we have already established.

At CLIA, we are working hard to ensure that, when we do provide the next phase of both training and support, it is in the right medium and content, and written to the right angles of delivery, balanced to fit into the scope of retail models of each region.

All this has to be structured in a way that not only aligns itself with CLIA global strategies, but also provides Asian training direction, consistency, and resource allocation so that Asian cruise retail businesses can evolve in a credible pathway.  For all these reasons, it has taken longer than most of us would have liked.

Do agents in Asia have enough collateral: training, brochures and knowledge? If not, what can be done to give them more?

• From my experiences visiting many ASEAN countries, I feel that there is definitely a strong awareness and competency in group sales, from charters to affinity group departures and incentive cruises. This is actually quite unusual as it is a segment I’ve been trying to get Australians and New Zealanders to embrace for some time now.

On the other hand, general cruising knowledge needs a lot more attention, as many agents, like their clients, have an outdated mindset of what the current cruise experience is, and the scope of products that make these experiences so variable.

This is not any fault of the agent; I believe the Asian travel agent community is strongly lacking resources and needs more support.

We all talk about ships being deployed in the region, infrastructure and destinations being assembled, but it is the agents who then fill the beds – cruise lines can’t do it themselves as all other markets have shown.

For the longevity of Asian cruise business it is critical that agents fill them but with the right people. Despite cruise lines promoting to the new-to-cruise segment, all markets around the world have grown because of the underlying strength of repeat customers. An unmatched booking that leads to a negative experience can cause greater harm to an industry in its infancy than established markets, particularly with social media reach today. So support needs to be given to Asian agents so that this doesn’t happen.

What do cruise lines need to do to help agent training?

• I feel the cruise lines are doing an adequate job in trying to reach out and support the agent community, though they are also limited in their resources and capacity. It will take a collaborative approach by all cruise lines – as the more diversity in conversation can only help with a more well-rounded agent and, as a result, a satisfied customer.

In saying that, we as an industry body need to take responsibility more as well. If an agent only ever gets to engage with one or two cruise lines then they become limited, and it can hurt an industry that is trying to establish credibility. As mentioned, we are well aware of this and want to bring to Asia what we bring to other markets: an holistic approach to cruise industry training that fulfils all the facets of a cruise retailer.

What are the big trends for the next 12 months and how can agents get equipped to sell these changes?

• Both CLIA and the cruise lines have taken the same approach over the past two years: pointing to the new to cruise market, the multi-generation cruiser, and the millennial. This is because the cruise lines don’t actually fight over the same passenger. They welcome competition amongst themselves – so long as the passenger is coming from land alternatives.

The Australian cruise market has, for the past two years, had the highest market penetration rate at over 4 per cent.

This mean 4.5 per cent of Australians are cruising. Is this good? Maybe. But it also means that during short breaks, holidays, the festive season, 95.5 per cent are choosing something else. So the cruise lines are desperate to attract some of this market.

One message we need to get across, and it applies to all three segments mentioned, is the connectivity evolution.

Ten years ago I’d have said the evolution of cruising was the dining experience. Then it was the features and experiences.

But over the last two years it has been about connectivity. With almost every line now partnered with providers, connectivity has changed dramatically. Per-minute charges have changed to per-day, packages and bundles are now available, and most important for the industry, broadband width and speed have gone up while pricing has come down. Agents need to be aware of this and relay it to their client base, as no matter what age spectrum we target, connectivity in today’s society is important.

It’s been said that agents need to convert retirees in Asia to longer and/or diverse cruise itineraries. Do you agree?  What can they do to convince older Asians to cruise?

• Let’s face it, most retirees have time at hand to enjoy their holidays, and in cruising terms this means longer itineraries, so yes I would showcase these options first.

Do most of them have the money to spend? 

• They probably do, but they are also the ones counting every penny because they have a strategic financial plan to last the
rest of their lives.

The best way to attract a retiree to cruising is showing them the ‘per person’
or ‘per day’ cost of a cruise and what is included. With their experience of living – they quickly learn what a great deal it is!