Monday, April 9, 2012

New Study - Want To Be Dissatisfied? Book Directly With a Cruise Line!

Recently the IBM Institute for Business Value did a study of travelers and if they believed they were getting value for their travel dollar.  There is a lot of very interesting data in that study worth considering, both as a travel advisor and as a travel consumer.  (There are two parts to this article, so please be sure to read this whole article as they discuss different aspects.)

It is my hope that in considering these points you just may have a clearer perspective on why using - I don't know, say - Goldring Travel is both a good idea economically and for your overall happiness.

Types of Travelers

First, let's get the most difficult group out of the way.  Oh, you think it is the luxury traveler who has many desires and wants a personalized experience?  WRONG.  They are, as you will see, the best type of traveler!

The most difficult traveler is what I call the crazed bargain hunter.  That is not the person who seeks out a great deal;  I mean I do that!  I am talking about the traveler IBM refers to as the "Perpetual Searchers".  These folks spend so much time struggling to find the lowest price that they lose focus on the travel experience and actually push themselves towards the largest online travel agencies which have the lowest levels of customer service.

I have a bit of advice for Perpetual SearchersStop shooting yourself in the foot!  Every person wants value for money, but when your demand for the absolute lowest price overwhelms the travel experience you actually get less for your money (less amenities, less advice, less hassle-avoidance, less good will, less fun, etc.) because as much as you want a great deal, the supplier (travel agency or cruise line) is working on such small profit margins it cannot afford to give you more than a moment's notice...if you get past the computer servicing your booking. 

In contrast, the group identified as "Occasional Luxurists" (those that take short and frequent getaways) were found to be far more likely to feel they got their money's worth.  Why?  To me, a luxury travel advisor, the reason is obvious:  They are more focused the overall experience.  They, too, want value for money, but are not solely focused on the bottom line.  They are willing to pay for upgrades and added amenities.  And with those things comes a higher level of service and, therefore, less hassles, more good will and, importantly, more overall pleasure.

But they are not the most satisfied of all travelers because their travel strategy doesn't really allow for them to exploit some of the best travel bargains out there.  Hence, the Occasional Luxurist tends to pay more per day of travel than most.

There are three other types of travelers identified in the study:  Happily Infrequents (those that travel less because they view travel as a hassle - hardly travelers!), Carpe Deists (those willing to seize the opportunity to travel with few advanced plans) and those that fit right into Goldring Travel's way of doing businessCautious Calculators (those that make their decisions carefully because travel is highly valued).

Below is a chart that I believe speaks a thousand words:  Cautious Calculators - those who carefully make their decisions, but whose decisions are not driven solely by getting the lowest price (Perpetual Searchers), not only believe that getting value for money is extremely important, but are over six (6) times more likely to believe that "Money well spent on travel is money well spent"! 


So I pause and ask, If the Perpetual Searcher doesn't believe that spending money on travel is spending money well (only 13% do), the why are they traveling in the first place?  I will tell you why:  Because they are confused.  They bought into the argument (and an excellent one by the way) that cruising is a fantastic travel bargain...and then forgot about the word/concept "travel" and only consider "bargain".  Finding people to share taxis/tours, three shrimp cocktails/two steaks for dinner, stock-piling shampoo and then complaining so they can get something "comp'ed" is what it all about. There are online travel agencies willing to deal with you...and then those complain that the cruise lines are taking away there marginal profits (all that the PS will allow) through direct bookings.  Result:  No one is happy. 

Now, put those Perpetual Searchers on a luxury cruise with the Cautious Calculators and you have a conflict.  Those highly loyal true luxury cruisers wind up having their experience degraded by the Perpetual Searchers who tax both the cruise staff and ship facilities resulting in a lower overall satisfaction for those who seek a luxury cruise experience.  Result:  Loss of Luxury and a Loss of Loyalty.

Something has to change.

Service and Marketing
Why Focus on the Perpetual Searcher
When the Cautious Calculator Is Where
the Long Term Benefit Lies?

Over the past weeks you have been reading about my total dissatisfaction with the cruise lines marketing efforts (especially Seabourn).  Well, it seems, I am not the only one who thinks so.  According to the IBM study, "Too many travel providers view marketing as a mechanism to boost short-term sales and too few see them as longer-term strategic investments that can consistently reinforce the differences among available products and services".  It is not surprising that only days ago, on March 30, 2012, I wrote on this very subjectSelling Luxury Cruises and How to Degrade a Market...and Market Share and then was told by a cruise line executive that I didn't know what I was talking about as they knew how they had to market in this difficult economy.  (I won't beat my head against that wall any more because if IBM tells me they don't get it then I know that it ain't just me!)

But now the kickerThe more the cruise lines implement direct bookings, the better it is for Goldring Travel.  In January 2012 I wrote two articles I think are worth reading (I guess I wouldn't have written them otherwise, huh?):  Your Order Room Service With Your Telephone, So Why Not Your Vacation? and Booking Your Cruise or Vacation Online? Think Again!

The fact is that online (faceless, voiceless, personless) bookings have increased significantly.  The more comfortable people are with the internet the more popular this sort of travel booking has become...and the more impersonalized the travel experience.  Hence, according to the IBM study, while people enjoy doing their own research, they engage in over ten times (10x) the number of webpage views and have an increasing frustration with not being able to obtain all the information they actually want...and need.

An example:  I was contacted by three older women now wanting to travel in June to two cities with a cruise in between.  They need a triple suite on a luxury cruise line and triple hotel rooms with single beds in each city.  Good luck finding that on a luxury cruise direct booking website or Hotels.com!  Is it possible?  I guess so.  Is it worth all the extra effort to possibly save a few dollars or, to be fully realistic, to pay a higher cruise fare or have amenities omitted?  I know it is not.

But there is more to that example than meets the eye!  Those three women came to me frustrated with finding a single hotel and not really knowing what they wanted to do when they got there.  I was able to work with them, discuss options and then find that there was a far better vacation option that really got them excited.  If they had booked online they would have gotten a few hotel rooms, more hassles and, to be sure, a totally different and less enriching travel experience with less amenities and probably a higher price.

So what does this have to do with Marketing?  The cruise lines were so focused on prices for close in cruises, they failed to market TRAVEL to those actually looking for a close in experience!  They missed the very travelers they are seeking to acquire.  The cruise lines are curiously marketing to the Perpetual Searcher rather than the Cautious Calculators...and that may have a short term result, but a long term loss!

As a final thought, I want you to consider what happens when things go wrong...and it is not a perfect world.  If you book online or you book at the lowest possible price who is going to be their for you when you have a pre-cruise, during your cruise or post-cruise problem?  Not a computer.  Not a cruise line booking engine.  Not a cruise line reservations agent who is trained to work off of "scripts" so that everyone who calls in receives the same message and the same response...as if everyone is identical (or is that "faceless").

So the next time you say, "I'll get a better price booking directly with the cruise line or with an online agency" you need to think about more than the "price"...and even if it is, what is the price you are going to pay going it alone.