This is a series of live posts from Travel Weekly’s CruiseWorld 2012. Due to the short time frame from which we hear the sessions to when we publish them, please excuse any errors!
The second general session of Tuesday consisted of a panel of marketing experts in the travel industry sharing their best practices. The panel was moderated by Joanie Ogg of Homebasedtravelagent.com and Mary Pat Sullivan of Sullivan Marketing Advisors.
The panel of marketing experts consisted of:
- Chris Austin, VP Global Retail Leisure & Luxury Sales
- Starwood Hotels & Resorts
- Mike Going, President
- Funjet Vacations
- Jeff Clarke, Vice President National, Corporate, Incentive, and Charter Sales
- Celebrity Cruises
- Vicki Freed, Senior Vice President, Sales & Trade Support
- Royal Caribbean International
- Mark Kammerer, Senior Vice President, Marketing and North American Sales
- Holland America
- Andy Stuart, President, Global Sales and Passenger Services
- Norwegian Cruise Line
Recap: A Master Class in Marketing & Sales
Mary Pat: Would you share with us your most brilliant idea in your sales and marketing career?
Chris Austin: Four years ago at Starwood, we decided we need to connect with our travel partners more. How can we elevate our travel partners? As a result, we created Starwood Pro. We built a program on 5 pillars. It’s a robust program exclusive to our travel professional partners. We have 30,000 Starwood Pros within 3 years of launching. We also elevated travel agents but changing the vocabulary from travel agent to travel professional. We created a program that you told us you need and that connects with you all.
Jeff Clarke: Almost 88-89% of our business is coming from you. We’ll only be successful if our distribution channel is healthy and profitable. How can we help you be successful? We put a lot of marketing platforms to help you market to your clients, we have training programs, 365 days a year.
Vicki Freed: Getting my husband to marry me. Hardest sale of my life! :) Getting my very first job as a sales rep for a cruise line. I had zero work experience but I was highly motivated to make a difference. I convinced my boss at the time that there was a good reason to hire me despite having no experience. I knew nothing about cruising; I thought my grandparents were too old to cruise! And now, we’re helping travel agents get better and better.
Mike Going: When very, very complex things come together outside the realm of just marketing and sales. We took the brand from a regional, rag-tag brand to one of the biggest brands today. Our jobs [referring to fellow panelists] at this point in our lives is to lead, find great people, and get out of the way. And one of the great things is those situations where someone doesn’t understnad what you’re doing and then, 2 years later, wishes they had! The energy that goes along with that…
Mark Kammerer: It isn’t just one ask. Great people ask for things and hear things differently all the time. Your biggest challenge isn’t picking between us [gesturing to fellow panelists], it’s getting people to take vacations.
Andy Stuart: The first time I learned it’s important to learn what is important to your customer was with my first French client. I was sent to France for business. I only knew school boy French and the client spoke English but would only do business in French. I bought a cassette tape and learned French over the next year. When we’d talk and I wouldn’t know the word in French, I would say it in English since he knew English. In the end, I closed the deal.
Joanie Ogg: Can you share a story of a travel agent that really blew you away? Maybe not necessarily in sales but by being innovative?
Mark Going: His name is Jeff and the other lady’s name is Nancy. What binds them together is these two people work their tails off in an incredibly focused way. They think about what clients they want; what they want to sell; what they do with clients before they sell; what they do with clients while they travel; what they do with clients when they return. They know how to sell, market, and engage client in the moment of truth. They have built sizable businesses with essentially 3-5 people. They picked preferred suppliers, they picked niches, they’re really sharp folks. Gives me great hope for the future of the home based model with these folks in it!
Jeff Clarke: I know an agent that does a seven-digit business. How did they get to that point? They went out and met business executives. They offer to do their business travel for free. They get their personal travel and leads from other executives in the company. The referral business they get from those people keeps them happy the rest of the year.
Vicki Freed: Roberta [an agent in the audience] has a passion for the Pandora charm bracelets. She thought, “How can I find something I have a passion for and make a business of it?” She put together a 100-person group fro those bracelets. A CruiseOne agency in Florida loves crafts. That agent put together 58 different craft groups over the last 5 years. Take your passion and make something of it.
Chris Austin: An agent named Anne in VA. There is a huge opportunity to increase your annual sales by selling hotels. Anne knows her compensation is a percentage of what she sells. If she builds in added value, she’s also likely to earn loyalty from her customer. She leverages the hotel programs the consortia has negotiated; she doesn’t have to do any extra work. She adds up the monetary value of the value added amenities on her invoice. Then, she takes a big red marker and puts on the bottom “Because you booked with McCabe World Travel we have saved you $___ in value added. She avoids discounting.
Andy Stuart: Jason Beukema. He put together a group on one of NCL’s ships that grew from 100-600. The group was a disaster. 600 guests had a great time, 1400 of the other guests didn’t have a good time. He came back after the event and said he was going to do 800 next time. We said no, he’d have to charter the whole ship. To his credit, he took the risk and chartered the whole ship. The demographic wasn’t an obvious cruise demographic, he encountered a hiccup and still, he’s been amazingly successful. Another is Jason Coleman. He’s built a personal brand for himself. He’s put himself out there for his customers by being mentioned in the New York Times article, he’s the face of the new travel agent.
Mark Going: An agent that asked if she could have a chef from her local area be in our guest chef program. Once they proved the chef had a big enough following, we said yes. To market, they used the chef’s mailing list, the restaurant, and her local clients to build a 50-person group. Take advantage of baked in audiences. You’re the glue that brings it together.
Mary Pat: Think beyond our industry. What company has done something in sales and marketing that hits the sweet spot?
Vicki Freed: Apple Computer. I think Apple has created a very unique product. They’re in a category one. They’re innovative, there is a buzz around them. There is an energy. There is always a line in front of their store but no one minds because of the buzz they’ve created.
Mark Kammerer: Patagonia. The founder had set it up so they give 3% back to charity and they still do it today. Their product is all about design and the functionality of the products. They embarked on campaign to get you to buy less. They ask you if you know where your garment was made. They just keep telling the same story but they connect to their customers. The greatest thing I love about them, is that their corporate headquarters are on the beach in CA and the expectations is that you’ll go out surfing on the beach everyday.
Chris Austin: Starbucks. They opened their first store in 1971 in Pike’s Market. They source and roast the best coffees in the world. They make it in 30 different ways, they sell chocolate, cups to drink it in, machines. What’s cool about Starbucks is they’re delivering such an experience. The CEO’s vision was to create a space between home and the work. Sell, sell, sell the experiences!
Jeff Clarke: Another brand that has done a good job of breaking out of a brand – Audi. The definition of luxury has become stale. It means many different things to different people. Luxury is a mindset.
Mike Going: Is it too early in the AM to take about beer? :) When you look inside the industry, just a knee jerk reaction, Visit Michigan travel advertising is fantastic. Outside the industry – Sam Adams. Very historic, one of oldest brewing companies in the US. Sam Adams advertising is very reassuring to me. You can almost taste the beer when you look at the advertisements. Another is Budweiser. I haven’t drank it in 25 years and they were running some ads that were patriotic and got to me, made my heart swell. I was out golfing with some buddies and decided I wanted a Budweiser. It’d been 25 years since I’d had a Budweiser, it will be another 25 before I have another. Another lesson in that: Make sure your product proposition matches your product advertising!
Joanie Ogg: With respect to consumer touch points, what is the most important innovation agents should be aware of?
Andy Stuart: Facebook are increasingly important.
Jeff Clarke: Do yourself a favor and let clients know to book their next vacation when they’re on vacation.
Chris Austin: Embracing loyalty programs. They’re here to stay because consumers absolutely love loyalty programs. I get some some travel professionals saying to me, “ I wish you didn’t have Starwood Preferred Guests”. It’s not going away. Help manage their accounts for them. Don’t let them use their points for free hotel rooms; use it for spa credits and upgrades. Leverage loyalty program as your next innovation.
Vicki Freed: The best tools are the ones that build upon those relationships. The phone. A face-to-face meeting. People want to do business with people they like.
Other Travel Weekly’s CruiseWorld 2012 Live Blogging