Friday, November 4, 2011

Cruise Documents - Happy, Hokey or a Horrible Waste?

I just read a some comments about cruise documents which really took me back.

A new Seabourn guest is anxiously waiting for her cruise documents..."What do they look like? What is included?" and all that, another person chimes in, "It's just a corrugated piece of paper product along with a cheap vinyl/plastic folder made in a Chinese sweat shop. Best use is to toss it in the recycle garbage bin after removing the spiral insert."

It is unfortunate that some people are so focused on themselves and the old "This glass is going to be empty soon; not even half empty" approach to life.  But I digress...because the issue is Cruise Documents.

Most people are tactile; that is they like to touch things.  Most people like to touch clothes before even thinking of taking them off the rack to investigate further.  Most people cannot understand blueprints, no less mentally put themselves into room that has yet to be built.  Most people like to receive something commemorating a special event or award (even a piece of cardboard which most people call "birthday cards").

Long ago...OK, not that long ago...having a paper ticket was essential.  There were no sophisticated computers at the airports or cruise terminals to verify you were a passenger.  Remember those red carbonized airline tickets that you placed into the special leather ticket wallet you purchased just for those special occasions known as "air travel"?  That ticket was like gold.  It meant you were really going somewhere and doing it in a special way.

And, to those tactile people out there...which, again, is most of you...Cruise Documents give you that same feeling.

Also, there are many folks that either do not use computers or are not comfortable with them (whether it be all the hype over personal information passing over the internet or just not getting the whole "cyber" thing).  Why is catering to their preferences less important than, say, having your drink costs embedded into your cruise fare versus paying as you go?  Costs?  Someone who doesn't drink is funding the drinking costs of someone who does...and someone who doesn't like cruise documents may be funding the costs of someone who likes them.  (There are lots of these trade-offs in the cruise financial scheme of things.)

Seabourn affords its guests a choice:  Traditional cruise documents or e-Documents for both Pre-Cruise and Cruise Documents.  To explain, Pre-Cruise Documents are provided by lines such as Silversea and Seabourn with lots of planning information.  Cruise Documents are the ones that get you on the ship.  Note:  Silversea, like most other lines, no longer send out these pre-cruise documents, but rather do them totally online.

I find this to be a poor marketing choice for both the cruise line and the travel agent.  Poor marketing for the travel agent, you say?  Why, yes I do!

Postage costs and time getting them out them door aside, having Pre-Cruise Documents allows me to re-connect with my clients that do not call or email me regularly and gives me an opportunity to remind them to engage their trip by planning in advance.  In other words, it allows me an opportunity to unobtrusively say, "Let's Get Going!!!!" and show that there is significant value in using me.  It also allows me the opportunity to send along a small gift of some sort.  You know the Thank You For Your Business thing that most people forget to do.

And then there are the actual Cruise Documents.  Pretty much gone are the lovely presentation boxes.  Seabourn was the last one to give them up.  Why?  I really don't think it was the cost...and ecology has nothing to do with it.  (Boy do I hate that excuse  Be honest; don't exploit legitimate environmental efforts when your concern really isn't that.)  What it has to do with in large part are complaints from travel agents that do not want to spend the money forwarding these presentations as it is expensive.  (You would be amazed at how many travel agents take the ticket wallets and luggage tags out of the packaging and throw them into a envelope just to save on packaging and postage!

Goldring Travel, however, takes a different approach.  I think Cruise Documents are a great way to reconnect yet again with my clients and to give them a real Thank You Gift.  Whether it is an embroidered carry-on bag, a canvas duffle, a fleece sweater, baseball caps, etc., it is a way for me to let my clients know that I really do care and invest in them as they invest in me.  If I can't invest a few dollars in saying "Thank You.  Your business and your vacation is important to me." there is something wrong.

Finally, Cruise Documents can send a message about what the experience is that you will receive onboard the ship.  I believe Orion Expeditions has the finest, most useful, cruise documents out there with a zip up portfolio packed with information in an incredibly organized and easy to use fashion.  Seabourn's documents and matching magnetic luggage tags, are simple, elegant and lined, giving a feeling of tradition combined with modernity.  Crystal's green wallets are filled...and I mean filled...with information (though not in the most easy to use fashion); I would say possibly a bit too much as they are truly focused on those that are truly not internet saavy.  Regent's are more akin to its premium (not luxury) sister line, Oceania Cruises.  The are really nothing more than some papers bound together in an overly large folder...giving the impression they are something that they really aren't.  (They are fine, just not special.)

Too many lines have eliminated Cruise Documents, but alas the demographics are such that  you will never miss that which you have never had and "Why do I need paper when I can see everything on my iPad?"  The information gets to the guests, but the richness of the experience starts to be diluted.

In short, Cruise Documents are important.  "[J]ust a corrugated piece of paper product along with a cheap vinyl/plastic folder made in a Chinese sweat shop"? Would you like to dine with that person or someone else  this evening?