Academy Travel: In The News

Doing a Cruise Night Right
By Theresa Norton Masek

Events that put you face-to-face with customers are a tried-and-true marketing tool

When you work at home, most of your business is conducted via phone, email and Internet. But personal contact still has an important place when selling cruises, which requires you to qualify clients. To help establish or cement relationships with cruise clients, consider hosting cruise nights or similar functions.

“Agents have a lot of arrows in their marketing quivers, and people get focused—and rightly so—on websites, email campaigns and local advertising,” says Bob Sharak, executive vice president-marketing and distribution for CLIA. “A cruise night is almost a retro kind of thing, but these events are a very personal and effective way to go to market. It’s a way to recognize and reward past passengers and prospects so they can meet your agency and get to know more about cruise products.”

CLIA has always been a staunch believer in cruise nights, to the point that it organizes and promotes the World’s Largest Cruise Night in October, during National Cruise Vacation Month. For the second World’s Largest Cruise Night, which took place on Oct. 19, 2006, 829 agencies participated—twice as many as in 2005. CLIA estimates that 14,860 bookings resulted from the event and are expected to generate an estimated $18.5 million in sales. What’s more, CLIA surveyed participating agents and found that 89 percent plan to participate in 2007—evidence that such events are worth the time and effort.

Whereas the traditional cruise night generally takes place in the evening in an agency or public room, today the phrase is used as a general way to describe any such event—a luncheon, a cocktail party, a dinner, an expo or a fashion show. As an at-home agent, you need to decide if you want to rent space or work with another business—such as a restaurant or a retail store. Some at-home agents invite clients or prospects into their homes for a more personal event, but think carefully about that.

“There’s a fine line between privacy and commerce, so it depends on how comfortable you are having people at your home,” Sharak says. “It depends on how well you know the clients. For new prospects, it might be a little uncomfortable for both parties.”

Lisa Givas, owner of Academy Travel in Manahawkin, N.J., hosted a family-themed cruise night in October in a half-ballroom at a local hotel. Of the approximately 300 people who attended, half were existing clients, and the rest were new to her at-home agency, which has 22 independent contractors. She invited her clients, as well as people who signed up for her online newsletter, by email. She also placed two newspaper ads. In addition, her independent contractors invited their own clients and also distributed flyers.

The event featured Disney Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and other family-friendly lines. Givas’ Disney representative lent her a ship model and provided Mickey Mouse confetti. Givas hired local actors to portray a pirate and a princess, played a CD featuring steel-drum music, showed DVDs from the cruise lines, and offered cookies and tea along with a cash bar. Her agents staffed tables for the cruise lines, and she also held a Q&A session.

“When you’re a home-based agent, it’s hard, because people aren’t walking in the door,” Givas says. “I’m a strong believer that I have to get out there with promotions at the movie theater, ice cream shops and restaurants.”

Givas was pleased with the response to her cruise night. “This was phenomenal,” she says. “Some people who saw the ad couldn’t make it but signed up for the newsletter online or called us and asked an agent to call them. Overall, we might’ve reached 1,000 people. I will definitely do this again.”

Debbi McLees, owner of CruiseOne in Greenville, S.C., used the World’s Largest Cruise Night as a way to promote a cruise that she is planning with Food Network chef Paula Deen, which sails Oct. 6-13, 2007. McLees had already hosted a cruise with Deen last April that drew 625 people. Some of those clients have already booked the 2007 Deen cruise, and others have since booked other cruises with McLees.

On Oct. 19, McLees traveled to Savannah, Ga., where Deen has a restaurant, and talked about the cruise to nearly 140 people attending two of Deen’s cooking classes.

“This was a little different than traditional cruise nights but definitely worth it to build up excitement for one particular sailing. We booked about 10 cabins from those two days,” McLees says. “I’ve been in business for 15 years, and in the very beginning did more traditional cruise nights. But when we just focus on one particular sailing, it’s easier to promote it. You’ve got one certain date, the price, everything is set right there. [You] can go ahead and plan amenities, and people know what they will get.”

For more information, visit CLIA at


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