Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Is Your Travel Agent Hyping A Cruise Line? How Do You Know?

I had some very interesting conversations with some clients that recently returned from cruises yesterday.


I also received my certification as being a member of the International Forum of Travel and Tourism Advocates, the IFTTA. The IFTTA is essentially an organization of attorneys and advocates from around the world that deal specifically with travel disputes. As such literally every day I receive decisions from various courts addressing issues such as whether a tour operator is required to disclose that a tour is scheduled for hurricane season or if a mis- or omitted statement as to visa requirements creates liability for the travel agency. (The inconsistency of rulings and the reversal rates are, frankly, incredible...only adding to the confusion as to what one's obligations are.)

Obviously, as a lawyer and travel agent I have great interest in both the business and legal end of making sure that my travel clients receive everything they are supposed to...and that they are well informed about their holiday before they make their final decision. To me this is more of an ethical obligation than a legal one and is why I have never been merely an "order taker" where clients call me up or email me and say "Book this cruise" and I simply reply, "OK." Time and time again, after a brief conversation a better option is settled on.

So what does this have to do with my conversations with happy clients that just returned from their cruises? Good question!

One client of mine (and regular reader of this blog) just returned from a cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey, which she truly enjoyed as her first Seabourn experience. Our conversation sort of ended on the topic of some people probably do not use me as their travel agent because I am so supportive of Seabourn to the point that it sounds like I am hyping the cruise line. I found that very interesting...and readily acknowledged that it probably was true.

The curious aspect of the conversation was that while she now believes Seabourn may not be the best fit for her (feeling it may be a bit too formal for her...at least in Europe) the food and service was not only a "10", but exceeded that which I have been representing to her directly, on this blog and on The Gold Standard Forum. She told me that you actually do receive true small ship service on the larger Seabourn yacht and gave me two examples.

- Seabourn offers smoothies at breakfast. She inquired if mango smoothies were ever made and was advised "occasionally". The next morning Seabourn had mango smoothies. That might seem the end of the story, but not on Seabourn. She didn't make it to breakfast that morning, so what did Seabourn do? Seabourn surprised her by delivering mango smoothies to her suite!

-She was interested in dining a Restaurant 2 when there was an Asian theme. She inquired as to whether a particular dish would be offered. The chef replied that it takes two days to prepare this dish, so it was not a regular offering. However, when they arrived for dinner two days later the special dish was presented..simply as a result of an inquiry.

As you know, if you know me, this blog or Seabourn, these are not actually special exceptions, but the way Seabourn does things. And it is why I am such a firm believer in Seabourn.

Now, relating back to her observation that some people do not book their cruises with me because I seem to be hyping Seabourn, I pause and ask, "How can I be hyping what is actually true?" As I explained to my client, unfortunately, there are people that are taken in by the marketing of Line X or, frankly, are comfortable with the product Line Y offers and don't want to deal with the emotions or concerns of change. While I may never book those individuals on a Seabourn cruise (not my goal!), it is hoped that they take away that what I tell them about any cruise line is truly what I believe and that it is accurate.

I also spoke with another client that just returned from an extended cruise on Oceania. This Seabourn regular was very pleased with his cruise and, in fact, booked another extended Oceania cruise, due in large part to the fantastic itinerary. (Keeping it in context, he has Seabourn cruises booked in between.) He raved that the staff was very good, the food was "a solid 'B'", the alternative dining venues were excellent and the Penthouse accommodations were fine. (They were not of Seabourn caliber, but that was never expected.)

But, as I cautioned him, Oceania is a fine product, but it is not inexpensive. He was actually quite put off by the liquor and wine prices...though he did appreciate that Oceania does allow you to bring your own liquor onboard, but requests you consume it in your cabin/suite. ($10.00 + tip for a Bloody Mary and a bartender's request if he would like a "double" when he ordered a scotch were things that put him off.) He also felt, at times, that the ship was just too crowded; especially at lunch time when not in port. Finally he felt that the gratuities being charged were excessive.

In the end, as I had previously said to him and have said on this blog, the Oceania cruise in a Penthouse suite ultimately cost him more than a Seabourn cruise. He agreed, but said it was worth it for the itinerary.

Was I hyping Seabourn???? Absolutely not. I was speaking the truth. And armed with the truth, he was neither shocked nor disappointed on his Oceania cruise. Honestly, he loved it. And, as I said, he booked another Oceania cruise. Now, if I did not tell him that Oceania was more expensive than Seabourn don't you think he would have been shocked and unhappy? Instead he was pretty darn happy.

By my being absolutely honest and using accurate information about Seabourn as a known benchmark both clients were happy. One was "WOW'd" by Seabourn and the other was thoroughly pleased by Oceania. One purchased an opening booking on Seabourn and one purchased an Oceania cruise.

In the end it is about honesty and integrity. The IFTTA would not exist if travel agents and suppliers provided what they represented. And Goldring Travel prides itself on providing its clients with accurate representations, not hype, as well as excellent pricing and service.

When you call or email me, please remember I belong to both...and the Better Business Bureau too!