Because the cruise industry sets its sights in the meetings and incentive market with renewed vigor, there are expanded opportunities for cruise-selling travel agencies to reel in business clients.
“Corporate events and incentive travel represent a promising growth area for business cruising,” said Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association. “Two-thirds of travel specialists report they may very well book a gathering or incentive cruise within the next 1 year,”
In contrast to cruise meetings, incentive programs on cruise lines have a long-standing history. Nevertheless the market has evolved considerably lately, as has cruise liner design.
While more top incentive travel companies are breaking into the incentive business, people that have long experience in the industry caution there are challenges for smaller players.
“The obstacles to entering the business certainly are a little higher with incentives,” said David Kliman, president from the Kliman Group, a meetings consultancy firm. “Big companies have deeply-embedded long term buyer-supplier relationships.”
Retail agents need to look at their portfolio of relationships, he advised.
“The incentives sector is very relationship-driven,” Kliman said. “Agents need to find out what services they can realistically provide to meeting professionals before they grab the phone to ask for business.”
Among travel agencies that have found success with incentives is Kathy Fitzgibbons who segued from the retail travel agency to Maritz Travel in St. Louis, the country’s largest incentive company.
She learned the company by working first with incentive “winners” who called in to sign up for their company’s incentive programs. Eventually she worked her way around become Maritz’ Travel Buyer and Cruise Specialist, serving as liaison with global cruise suppliers.
Fitzgibbons’ clients are derived from numerous industries. They include the financial and automobile sectors, along with the direct-sell market, for example Avon. Her average group dimension is 200 guests, but she recently blocked 600 cabins for an incentive event with a Mediterranean cruise.
Once aboard the ship, incentive programs have huge variations from casual towards the meetings-intense. However they all share a standard feature: participants been employed hard for that trip.
“It’s exciting for somebody to know that the reward is to be on a cruise,” Fitzgibbons said. “Usually, as soon as the spouses figure out a cruise is involved, they really apply the pressure to win.”
Because cruising generally has yet to draw in a lot more than 20% of North American travelers, there may be a lot of potential to grow the incentive market, Fitzgibbons noted.
“I make an effort to incorporate cruises anytime you can if we are making a proposal for the client,” she said. “Sometimes, the company has not even considered it as a a chance.”
Value and diversity are top selling points for cruise ship venues, she added.
The lion’s share of her incentive programs take place in the Caribbean or Alaska, Fitzgibbons said, adding that this Mediterranean has seen resurgence as well as the Adriatic is specially hot.
River cruising is additionally attracting the incentive market, according to Fitzgibbons.
“In the 1990s we did a lot of river cruises, although the business went away,” she said. “Now, new vessels are increasingly being launched with lots of balconies, wi-fi, even alternate 49dexqpky venues. And, the ships stop in any way the tiny towns down the Danube, which can be obviously a thing that larger ships don’t do.”
Agents thinking about cruise incentive sales should understand that travel is only one piece of the organization. Top firms offer full-service solutions that include creating and monitoring the actual sales incentive programs.
Successful incentive planning involves overseeing activities both on and off the ship.
“We give your very best to create exclusive group experiences on shore excursions,” said Fitzgibbons. “We is capable of doing that because of our strong relationships with the top ground suppliers. We’re constantly seeking to provide that ‘wow’ factor.”