Forging close relationships with your customers and thinking differently are the keys to success, Royal Caribbean Line president Adam Goldstein tells Lee Hayhurst
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line president Adam Goldstein recently conducted a tour of retail partners close to the line’s headquarters in Florida as part of Travel Agent Appreciation Day.
What he found in the five Fort Lauderdale agencies, of vastly contrasting shapes and sizes, was that each one had a bricks and mortar presence, even those considered to be pure web retailers. Goldstein said in one day he saw five very different approaches to doing business, including one online agency that was in the process of creating a physical booking centre.
“It was turning back into a bricks and mortar agency, keeping in touch with the consumer by having an office that underscored its knowledge and commitment.”
Goldstein doesn’t raise this point to suggest the tide of change in the world’s largest cruise market is turning to the high street from the web, but that human-to-human interaction remains vital. So, when he pledges to support agents who are prepared to think differently about cruise retailing, one factor remains unchanged – that successful agents forge a close relationship with the customer.
“The question for any business or business person is how to leverage your assets in productive ways. So, if you are on a high street you have access to footfall, you have high visibility and are easy to get to as well as to call.
“You do not want to lose that advantage, but you can make technology investments to try to connect that with your offline presence in interesting ways.”
In his address to the Ace Columbus Day in September, Goldstein will draw on his vast experience of how cruise is sold around the world to offer a global perspective.
He said many agents in the US have invested heavily in technology to improve the way they reach consumers through new channels such as social media and their call centre capabilities.
“In the US, travel agencies who have thoroughly immersed themselves in cruising have carved out long-term successful businesses, despite tremendous evolution and ever-changing business models. Many have heavily invested in technology, have very strong database management capabilities, using technology to keep in touch with their loyal customers.
“They have sophisticated call centres, so for even the most technology-centred companies human-to-human interaction is of paramount importance.
“There are very few players in the US market, or any market, who have built and sustained a large distribution of cruises based solely on an electronic conversation.”
Other markets outside the US are also innovating to exploit specific opportunities in those regions, Goldstein said.
For instance, in Australia, agents have become adept at selling the many longer repositioning cruises available in that marketplace.
In the fast-growing Chinese market travel agents have emerged that are more likely to take on ship charters. “We find distribution is quite different there,” said Goldstein.
But, while there are local answers for local markets, there are also general areas of good practice and the UK is often held up around the world as a prime example. “The UK distribution community is strong and has come a long way from what I remember when I first got involved in the market in 1991.
“There has been tremendous progress both in terms of cruise specialists developing knowledge, and in multiples where cruise is seen as a mainstream holiday that deserves a share of the overall mix. In key, emerging areas of the world, such as China and Brazil, we typically use examples from US and UK agencies as what they can aspire to.
“What we take from the global environment is that there are so many potential business models, so many potential ways of reaching customers, so much you can do with technology today.
“The permutations for any given travel agency business to promote the market are massive, the key thing is to know your customer base and take approaches to the market that will work.
“Most agents realise they are in the business of information management. Consumers have such a huge variety of tastes and there are hundreds of thousands of suppliers, it’s bewildering to keep up with.
“Professional distributors of travel do that all day every day. That’s the advantage they have.”
The Ace Cruise Convention Columbus Day event takes place at the Burlington Hotel in Birimingham on September 20.
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