Saturday, March 31, 2012

Selling Luxury Cruises and How to Degrade a Market...and Market Share

Last evening I attended a charity event that raised almost $750,000 for a wonderful organization.  Silversea Cruises really came through with a huge assist and some nice money for the charity was raised.  The issue, to my mind, was that not enough was raised. 

Why? Obviously it was not because there wasn't anyone bidding at the live auction.  It was because the auctioneer did a less than optimal job in selling the cruise package and, thus, there was less interest and less enthusiasm.

So how would you raise the interest, and charity dollars (or, shall we say, "sales"), for a luxury cruise? Let's get back to that charity auction!

Offered was an oceanview suite on a 7 night Silversea Alaska cruise with a corner suite at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, the domed train to Seward, economy airfare and $500 in spending money...along with some Silversea items and Goldring Travel luggage, jackets and hats.

I was supposed to give a one minute promo for the cruise before the auction.  It never happened.  I am not sure why, but it doesn't matter.  What matters is that it was clear that the auctioneer - a very nice guy - didn't have a clue what he was selling and really had no ability to communicate the salient points.

I was going to say like, "This is a cruise for two on one of the most luxurious cruise ships in the world.  Butler service, flowing champagne and beverages of choice, fine cuisine, no gratuities and only 380 fellow guests.  But before you board you fly to one of the nicest suites in Anchorage and then take a domed train to see wildlife in luxury.  Once you board the Silver Shadow, the itinerary is as impressive, with incredible glaciers and mountains, in depth discovery of Native American cultures and, of course, whales, bears and bald eagles...and salmon.  Added to that is the luggage, jackets and a Silversea Bobby Jones shirt and more.  You are pretty much all set for a dream vacation of a lifetime."  But as I said, that didn't happen.

What was pitched was essentially, "A seven day Alaska cruise with everything included.  Airfare, hotel, train, 500 bucks, all your booze and tips.  It is a great deal."  Now do you have visions of a typical cruise without much value or what?  I mean if you had never been on a cruise would that seem interesting and exciting to you?  Didn't think so.

Now, charity event aside, what I keep hearing from luxury travel clients is, "If I see another email for $2,199 I am going to scream!  I mean who is going to be on my cruise? And, by the way, is that all that the cruise is about?  Price?"

So, I don't care if it is Silversea or Seabourn, putting the focus on price transforms the luxury cruise experience into, well, just another vacation.  And that degrades the luxury cruise market.  And with the luxury market no longer being special - the very reason to go on a luxury cruise - less people will be motivated to jump into the luxury cruise market...and the market share of those taking a cruise drop.

So what does that do?  For those with a mass market mentality:  Drop the prices further!  Thus repeating the cycle and further undercutting their very own product.

But for those that actually understand the luxury market it does something different.  It creates opportunity to differentiate its product.  Explain why your luxury cruise is special, give the reasons it is different, exclusive and enriching...and the demand will increase (not decrease) and prices and sales will rise.

Want an example?  At the same charity event there was a hunting lodge weekend for 8 including meals, wine and cigars.  The auctioneer pitched it differently. He knew what it was and spent the time to make it sound exclusive.  The winning bid was not only higher than the cruise, the demand was so high that two of those weekends were sold!

The money and motivation was there. It is a matter of selling it properly.  And, if done properly, everyone...and it is everyone in the actual luxury market...is happy.

Now it seems pretty obvious, doesn't it?