I received my Cruise Line Industry Assoc Accredited Cruise Counsellor (CLIA ACC) Certification today! http://ow.ly/d/jE7
This is the time of year when Alaska cruises are a hot topic of conversation. Since the Alaska Cruise season is May-September, this is when some of the focus shifts from the Caribbean and Europe to Alaska. Alaska cruises offer a unique mix of nature, history and culture that can’t be found anywhere else.
A great add-on to an Alaska cruise is the variety of land packages that can be added before and/or after a cruise. Alaska cruises sailing out of Seattle, Vancouver and Seward offer many options from a night or two, up to extended stays of a week or more. You can have a luxury city experience all the way to a rugged outdoor camping adventure, and anywhere in between.
I love these cruises since they can be customized for many preferences such as: hobbies, activity levels, cultural experiences and the nature lovers. You can focus on wildlife and fishing, photography, hiking, biking, kayaking, flightseeing, and lumberjack adventures. These cruises are great for families looking for a unique vacation experience that is fun for all ages.
When cruising to Alaska you will get to visit many different cities and ports, but the highlight has to be the glacial fjords. Places like Glacier Bay National Park or Tracy Arm Fjord gives you the opportunity to see glaciers, snow-capped mountains, along with lakes, rivers and a breathtaking coastline. For animal lovers, there are sea lions, bald eagles, bears, mountain goats and some of the best places for whale watching opportunities.
Planning an Alaska cruise is the first step to making memories that you will treasure forever.
When I am meeting with a new client that is considering a cruise for the first time, there are many questions that arise.
- Are the ships too big/too small?
- Will I be bored?
- Will I get seasick?
- Will I get claustrophobic in the cabin?
- Is there enough closet/storage space?
- What can we do at night?
- What happens during the days at sea?
- How do I know what I can do in port?
- Will I like the food?
- How can I keep in touch with my family at home?
All of these questions lead me to a chat about what a client likes and dislikes. Cruises are NOT one size fits all. A ship and itinerary that might be ideal for one client might be a poor choice for another. I think selecting a cruise is a lot like buying a car. Two people can like the same make of a car, but like different models. Two people can like the same model of a car, but one likes leather seats and another prefers cloth. One can like a red car, and another prefers blue. That’s where a good travel agent can help.
If I am talking to a client for the first time I may ask them about past vacations and which ones they loved and why. I also ask about which ones they didn’t enjoy. I can learn a lot from the like and dislikes. It gives me a good idea about how to match a client with the right cruise line, ship and itinerary.
There are small ships and mega ships. There are ocean cruises and river cruises. I do believe that there is a cruise for everyone, but everyone does not fit every cruise. I like matching clients with the best cruise line, ship, itinerary and sail date for them. That is the way to plan the perfect cruise.
When I was a kid my parents used a local agency to book our travel. I didn’t quite understand how these plane tickets would show up, but somehow a call was made and then a paper ticket came in the mail. I remember thinking that it had to be a cool job to be a travel agent. You could spend your day talking about great places and taking care of people.
In the past few years I’ve been going through boxes of stuff that I cleared out of my parents’ house after I graduated from college. In one box I found a stack of itineraries for flights to Florida when I visited my grandparents and aunt. When I was in High School I had the wonderful opportunity to take a school Spring Break Trip to Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Once again I was interested in the travel process. Each day we had tour tickets ready for us, funny and informative guides and there were pre-planned dinners with entertainment. After I got home from that trip I made my first scrapbook, including ticket stubs, hotel information and brochures of places we visited. I didn’t know I created my first “destination guide”.
Fast forward to when I was planning our honeymoon. I went to some local agencies for information and collected stacks of brochures. I asked friends for referrals for a travel agent. After talking to a few agencies I found a “cruise only” agency that had the cruise I wanted at the price I wanted. My agent gave me great service. She let me know when rates went down and we were able to take advantage of some upgrades. I booked with that same agent again. She knew what cruises we liked, what cabin categories we preferred and where we wanted to go next. When I called back to book another trip I found out that my agent retired. I was bummed. I talked with her replacement and it wasn’t the same experience. All of the sudden I felt like a line item on a spreadsheet and not a customer. I knew right then what I expected in a travel agent. I just didn’t know that I was about to become my own agent.
Each of those experiences stuck with me. It was the simple idea that being a travel agent had to be a fun job. There was a “ta-da!” moment when tours and travel plans magically happen. And then there’s an understanding that travel was about people, dreams and expectations. This built the foundation of how I knew what kind of travel agent I wanted to be. It’s about making dreams come true. It’s about taking care of the details. It’s about listening to what the customer wants and expects and making sure they book a trip that meets those needs.
Being a travel agent is a fun job and I hope that one of my clients’ kids goes on a vacation that I planned and thinks “Wow! Amy has a cool job!”
Another unique way of looking at a cruise vacation is as a method of transportation. Cruises can be an affordable way to travel to many countries in a short period of time so you can do and see what you want to do on land.
In the last few years cruises in Europe became very popular. Land-only trips were costly and a cruise would allow you to visit many locations at a good value. There has also been an increase in specialized excursions for cruises to the Caribbean, Hawaii and Mexico. These excursions include specialized trips for foodies, motorcycle riders, wine enthusiasts, photographers, bird watchers, history buffs, and the list goes one. The cruise was just the way to get to a different port or country each day to have a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
If you have never cruised before, but you have a passion for food, wine, art, nature, history, etc., you might want to consider a cruise to create a unique vacation that allows you to enjoy your favorite thing every day. Just imagine being able to enjoy farm-to-table meals in 3 or 4 countries in a week. Or it could be taking pictures of waterfalls on multiple islands. Maybe it’s meeting with local artists and taking a class and by the end of your cruise your souvenirs will be your own creations.
The options are really endless. It just takes a little imagination (and a good travel agent) to help you plan a vacation custom designed for you.
Do People Still Use Travel Agents? Thankfully, the answer is YES!!!
When I first started in the travel business, I had two unique customers. I was planning business travel by making air/hotel/car reservations, and I was working with brides on destination weddings and honeymoons. As the years went by, the business travel faded due to increased costs in the business travel market. The brides I had worked with were now booking anniversary trips and many had young families and were now planning trips to Disney, cruises, and family-friendly resorts.
Those family trips evolved into Grand Trips. This is where the grandparents take their grandchildren on a trip, and many times the mom and dad will plan some separate activities, and sometimes they went on a completely different trip.
Cruises then became the core of my business. It was a good way to offer many options to people with different ideas about what a vacation should be. Cruises meant that families can plan activities together, but there can also be time apart to meet the different needs for everyone. The cruise lines now offer many programs for kids, and there are adult-only areas on ships to give the grown-ups some time away.
When I get asked “who is your typical client?”, I can have a hard time answering that question. The average age, income, lifestyle and travel needs keep changing. But, the one thing that doesn’t change is that my clients are busy and don’t have the time to spend hours researching rates, dates and options. They have certain ideas in mind about where they want to go and what they want to do and want to find the best value for their travel dollar. My clients also want to know that they have someone to turn to when they have a question. A traveler can find a lot of information online, but you don’t always know if it’s accurate.
My travel business has changed and evolved over the years. I have trained to become a Cruise Specialist, a Certified Destination Wedding Planner, and many more. That training and education is the reason why people still use travel agents. Sure, you can book online, but I can assure you that a database driven website doesn’t have the knowledge, experience and vendor direct resources that travel agents do.
Travel consumers have a lot of options when deciding where and how to book their travel. There are online travel agencies (big and small), brick-and-mortar agencies, home-based travel agents, and even credit card companies are offering travel services. It can be hard to see past the TV ads, e-mail advertisements, and social media marketing campaigns to decide where and how to book travel.
One advantage of booking with a travel agent is service. Many times service gets lost when bookings are made online or through a call center. A customer can become an account number and a line item in a sales summary. With a travel agent you are an individual, with unique needs, plans and preferences.
So, where is the value-add when all prices are equal? Once again, it’s service. When clients book a trip with me, I create a custom destination guide for their trip. These guides include info about the location, weather, local transportation, the best beaches, favorite restaurants, the must-see sites, and many other tips. It’s something that I give as a gift to my clients. Some agencies charge $20-49 for these guides, but I like to send it for free as a bonus for my clients.
I have clients that print out the guides and others save them on a Smartphone so they can look up information at any time. These guides are one more way that I stand out from the faceless and nameless online agencies. It’s one more way for me to help my clients plan a great trip they’ll never forget.