Agents need to be cruise experts

Observing that agent knowledge is a key driving factor towards client decision-making, it is only imperative that travel agents in mature markets like India become cruise experts or otherwise get left behind in the race.

As cruising continues to grow in India, it’s an ideal time to have a look at mature markets that were once in India’s current position and learn from them. Firstly, the two biggest markets of cruisers are from the US and UK. Combined they contribute to almost half of the cruise passengers around the world (over 13 million passengers), and it’s no coincidence that they have also been the two pioneers of the professional development of cruise education to travel agents.

An educated market is the catalyst for strong local growth, as agent knowledge is a key driving factor towards client decision-making. The following reasons are what agents reported when they concentrated on booking more cruises:

  • Easy to book: One wholesaler or one computer entry made up the entire holiday booking with everything catered for.
  • Profitable: Average cruise commission is eight-10 per cent
  • Time efficient: One booking in a timely manner.
  • Satisfying to clients: More than 95 per cent satisfaction ratings resulted in happy customers and good word of mouth.
  • Easily match clients’ needs: Cruise caters for many diverse wants and needs in a holiday, including a range of budgets.
  • Repeat business.

If I compare India to any other market, it would be to where Australia was eight to ten years ago. However, given the population of India, along with the five port development projects (Mumbai, Mormugao, New Mangalore, Chennai Port and Kochi) occurring along its massive coastline, means that India is in one of the best positions to capitalise the cruise market than most nations can dream of. But the warning is that potential doesn’t always mean sure success. There is a process which we’ve learnt from other markets that needs to evolve and education of agents is one of the key factors.

Training is necessary
When I look back to those earlier times when I was training agents across Australia and New Zealand, there was still an apprehension to be educated in cruise despite its benefits. Most agents thought their cruise business was not big enough (one or two sales every month) or that they knew enough to sell. But as the years rolled by (and the market grew because of the agents who promoted it), I started to see a shift in my audience. They were getting older; I was starting to get experienced agents who had been selling travel for decades coming for cruise training! It was because they had no choice anymore. Their clients were dictating what they wanted, and in the end the agents had no other option but to understand cruise better if they wanted to keep their clients. The need for cruise education exploded to a point now that there is not a single retail travel business in the country that doesn’t have cruise education as part of their training. So, should you wait until your clients’ demand for cruise holidays increases? I say no. You need to start learning now, because if you were going to look at the most successful travel businesses currently in Australia, they were the ones who started all that time ago specialising in cruise, becoming cruise accredited and cruise experts, way before others. Many built their business on this, and are now reaping the rewards from the explosion of cruise tourism. You can ignore these lessons if you like, but you will be behind the ones who didn’t.

Peter Kollar Head of International Training & Development, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

(The views expressed are solely of the author. The publication may or may not subscribe to the same.)

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