In the world of cruising, it’s not often that a company changes their sales strategy in favour of a newer, modernised tactic.
And yet, for Windstar Cruises, that’s exactly what they’ve done.
A cruising company who confessed they were once far too focused on direct business bookings, in the last two years Windstar has since given their strategy a major shake-up and become more reliant on travel agents.
To find out more about the strategy and how it’s helped sales, we sat down with Windstar Vice President of Sales Steve Simao to talk about all things agents.
Travel Weekly: You’ve recently shaken up your relationship with trade, what spurred on the move and how has it changed sales?
Steve Simao: I think from our standpoint Windstar did have a very strong direct business model in the past.
But, about two years ago when John Delaney came into our company he actually did a study and we took a look at yields, meaning what is the average price per day that a passenger is paying if they book direct or via a travel agent.
I think the common wisdom in the industry has always been ‘well you don’t have to pay commission to the travel agent so it’s going to be more profitable to a cruise line to sell directly‘.
Our data proved the opposite of that, it showed travel agent bookings were higher yielding to us and that could be a combination of the fact travel agents were selling further out, when prices were higher, as well as direct bookings taking place in flash sales weeks.
As well as this, travel agents are literally selling, they’re adding more ancillary items on like pre and post trips, pre and post hotel stays, they may also be selling the value of upgrading to a balcony cabin category, either way, we were making more money on travel agent bookings.
Even when you incorporated the commission payments, from that standpoint alone it logically made sense for us to pursue more travel agents business.
But I think beyond that, as a brand who just doubled capacity, you can only send so many direct emails to get people to book; a travel agent offers us access to their own database and in theory that’s why you’re paying commissions, it’s to help have a travel agent sell and travel agents were legitimately doing that at higher yields so it toally made sense for us to partner with travel agents.
TW: What would you like to see agents doing more of to help Windstar?
SS: It’s easy to sell mass-market brands, they’re doing well in advertising; consumers are walking into doors of big companies.
Windstar aren’t too well known and so the value of a travel agent to us as well as to consumer is expertise.
That’s why a consumer is going to choose travel agents because they know more, they’re the expert that can help guide them we want TA to help us find those travellers and introduce the concept of Windstar Cruises to them.
That will then help us spread brand awareness.
TW: Your new brochure has no photos of cruise ships on the cover, why is that?
SS: It’s about the whole idea of a traveller verse a tourist.
If you think of travel magazines like Nat Geo or Conde Nast, they’re focused on destination and it’s aspirational.
We wanted our brochures to capture this aspirational travel so consumers can envision themselves there.
It’s authentic and it’s bringing the experience to travellers
TW: What percentage of your guests are Aussies?
SS: We’re primarily North American so international business is in the single digits, but our Australian consumers make up half of this.
Aussies make up half of the international business for Windstar, it’s great.