With all of the online resources available, is there still a role for cruise travel agents?
Many consumers are booking their own cruises online. We live in an era when travelers have gotten used to booking their own air travel and hotels, bypassing traditional travel agencies. But it’s one thing to source a bargain airfare or hotel room, and quite another when you’re talking about a major expenditure like a cruise vacation for two.
For the average cruiser, it still makes sense to take advantage of the expertise and resources of a cruise expert at your favorite travel agency.
“There are many styles and types of cruises to select from today,” said Suzy Smith of Seattle’s Lake City Travel & Cruises. “Travel agents can establish the client’s priorities and desires and match them to the most fitting cruise line. This would factor in things such as cruise line styles and reputations, age markets, amenities onboard, budgets, shore excursions, itineraries and comparisons to other lines. We also can offer you an all-inclusive experience including services surrounding your cruise, including air transportation, transfers, hotels, immigration assistance and general destination information.”
“Planning a cruise vacation can be a daunting task,” said Heather Hunter of AAA. “There are many options available including various cruise ships, cruise lines and destinations – each appealing to a different type of traveler. Partnering with a professional travel counselor who specializes in cruise travel will save vacationers countless hours of research time, and provide access to additional benefits and discounts available only through travel agencies.”
It’s a competitive cruise marketplace. Cruise lines continue to aggressively market their ships with traditional advertising, and smart travel agencies stay in touch with their clients through newsletters and other marketing to offer up special deals and new products and itineraries.
Travel agents can’t ignore the Internet, however. Potential cruises are showing up to agencies having done a lot of preliminary research online. They have a lot of resources available – from cruise line websites to popular online sites like CruiseCritic.com. Cruisers can call up a potential ship/itinerary and read consumer-generated reviews.
“The Internet has affected us in a very positive way,” said Alysia Murillo of Cruise Specialists in Novato, California. “Our clients are very knowledgeable and some do a lot of online research before contacting us. Still our clients know that we are the experts, so many times they do advanced research, but call their trusted advisor to book. Additionally, with newer social media outlets we are able to connect with our clients in an entirely new and fun way.”
An experienced cruise specialist can make all the difference – but make sure you’re working with an expert. Ask the hard questions, because some agents are still spouting old clichés about cruise lines and their clientele. You’ll want to find out how often they’ve sailed on your targeted line, and if their knowledge comes from more than just reviewing the latest cruise brochures.
If you book with a trusted agent, rather than directly online, you’ll have an advocate who is looking to ensure an amazing cruise vacation. It’s in their best interest – they want you back as an on-going client.
“Booking online can be very time consuming, difficult to navigate and misleading,” added Smith. “We can save you time, money, and frustration by working with our vendors and services that will give you the best value for your dollar. We are here to meet with you face to face and will assure you exceptional customer service. The computer can’t give you the personal interaction.”
“Travel counselors stay abreast of cruise industry news including new ships, price changes, document requirement changes, travel alerts and continuously monitor the overall travel landscape,” said Hunter. “Their time, personalized service, first-hand destination knowledge to offer tips on destinations and at destination ports – places to shop, dine and sightsee adds irreplaceable value to the vacation price. Additionally, when events occur that take you off course before or during your vacation, your travel counselor will be at the ready to intervene and find the best solution.”
And of course, it’s more than just about great customer service. Booking through a travel agent can save you money, too.
“We have preferred partnerships with most of the major cruise lines such as Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Oceania Cruise and Seabourn,” said Murillo. “When you book online directly you are really cutting yourself short as you could be missing some of the best promotional offers and added benefits that a travel agent would have knowledge of.”