Not waiting for Wave season, travel advisors push cruise deals now

Wave Season is dead, Mara Hargarther is happy to report.

With an eye on her agency’s cash flow and the piles of future cruise credits on her desk, Hargarther this month decided there’s no reason to wait until January to launch an all-out push to sell cruises.

So Hargarther asked her cruise partners for some co-op advertising, prepared a mailing of 10,000 postcards highlighting getaways on the high seas and started calling clients to encourage them to spend the holiday season at sea. 

Smith and his staff of full-time employees had planned to start marketing cruises in October, but didn’t “have enough cash flow to do a lot of marketing right now,” he said. “We had planned to start in October, but the world, industry and cash flow don’t justify a lot of marketing right now.”

After “a couple of great months” in June and July, Smith said, August and September were bad, and October is looking worse. 

Still, Smith is planning a big marketing push in November and in preparation has hired back five full-time travel advisors and begun a training program.

“Everything hinges on what 2022 and beyond look like,” he said. “We’re not yet anywhere close to cash-flow positive. December to April will really be key.”

Wave has never been a big focus for Smith, he said. His agency was growing by about 30% per year for the 10 years before Covid, and every month was a good month, each often better than the last.

His sales had reached $10.3 million in 2019, and he was expecting $13 million for 2020; now he is projecting about $7 million and hoping to grow another $2 million to $3 million in 2022. 

For now, he said, “my job is to make sure my employees earn a living and I don’t lose my shirt.”

He let go two in-house marketing specialists and outsourced their positions, but nonetheless expanded his advertising budget. “I put too much time into my agency to be timid now,” he said. “We will come out swinging in December.”

Relying on consortia marketing

At the independent-contractor level, Catherine Adde is relying solely on the marketing materials her consortium and her host agency, TravelStore, provide, while listening carefully to her clients. 

When one customer’s trip to England was canceled during Covid, Adde noted in the file that the customer said, “One day I’ll book a Uniworld cruise with you.” So when Signature Travel Network, her agency’s consortium, held an online cruise night, she invited the client to log in. 

“She declined at first, but I asked permission to register her anyway so she could watch it at her convenience and take advantage of any special offers,” Adde said.

Next thing she knew, the client called to say she was excited about the offers and that she and her husband want to sign up for a River Duchess cruise. “And since she usually travels with friends, I made up a flyer for her to send around so they could join her,” Adde said.

Within two weeks she had a group of 20.

“Sometimes the best form of marketing is to be a good listener through the noise of canceling and rebooking and follow up with clients even when you are busy putting out fires,” she said. 

Signature’s director of cruise partnerships, Julie Howard, said that people are starting to market cruises earlier this year. “I don’t think anyone is waiting. Everyone is eager to get the business back on the books by getting future cruise credits applied and focusing on new bookings to get a jump-start on 2022 and beyond.”

Signature for the past few months has been running a series of virtual consumer events targeting FCC holders and new-to-brand guests as well as including special offers like prepaid gratuities. They have generated $50 million in revenue.

“These events have been so well-received because you can touch people in every state. They create inspiration and excitement for consumers to plan their next dream vacation, and they really create a demand for booking now,” Howard said.

Meanwhile, Adde also is counting on the fall issue of TravelStore’s magazine, with the theme “Here are some great offers, and the time is now.”

“The world is waking up again, and it’s time to book,” Adde said. “We’ve all been trepidatious, but many of our advisors are traveling right now, using social media to say, ‘Hey, here I am, it’s not crowded and I do feel safe.’ The imagery is just so powerful.”

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