Written By: Tom Ogg
A few years back we had the honor of having Mr. Andy Bailey share his marketing effort by selling Viking River Cruises by using seminars to present and then close river cruise sales. The conversation was fascinating. I well remember having an agent on several cruise seminars that focused on selling Alaska cruises to first timers. He ran “Cruising Alaska 101” seminars in conjunction with Holland America and sold hundreds of them.
Having done numerous seminars myself selling travel business opportunities, books, association memberships and so on I thought I would share the details of doing seminars focused on selling river cruises.
Gat a Plan
As in any business venture you will need a plan of action in order to make your river cruise seminars a success. Who are you going to market to? What are you going to market? When are you going to start the seminar series? Where are you going to market? Why are clients going to buy your product?
You need to have a thorough understanding of these elements completely thought out, planned and budgeted long before you start looking for a partner. By having a well conceived business plan, you will become much more attractive to a potential partner, especially if you do not have a successful track record that you can be validated.
Your plan should lay out the costs of doing the seminars, the focus, the products, the anticipated results and the measuring criteria. One of the most motivating factors for selecting river cruises is the large commissions that they generate.
Get a Partner
The most effective way to draw potential clients and convert them to sales is to be the expert. By partnering with one of the river cruise lines you can accomplish several things. First, it proves your expertise by being someone the cruise line supports. It also guarantees your potential clients that your seminar will be informative and thorough. By having a representative of the cruise line at your seminar.
It is quite possible that your partner will also invest in the seminars by sharing the cost of the promotion, meeting rooms, food and beverage (if any) and booking incentives (if any). You should make strong commitments of support and exclusivity to your partner in return for their support.
Get a Product
Turn your seminar into a sales event by pitching a very specific product such as “AMA European River Cruises” or “AMA Danube River Cruises”. By making the seminar very specific you are likely to get attendees that are well along their way to making a decision about booking a river cruise. Rather than have a general seminar about river cruising, make it very specific. And, always make the seminar 100% about your partner’s products.
Of course, you should be ready to book clients at the seminar by offering an incentive to make a commitment. In some instances your partner may be in a position to make concessions of some kind to motivate clients to commit. By have group space blocked with a limited inventory available will always act as a motivator to commit, as does a pending price increase or inclusion expiration.
Always make it easy for clients to make a commitment. Don’t try to make a complete booking at the seminar, just get a deposit, name, cruise and date and then say that your office will be in touch for all the details in a day or so.
Get a Room
Where you are holding your seminar will make a difference in the results that you will experience. There are a ton of inexpensive or free venues that are available in any community. Venues such as local libraries, community colleges, high schools, churches (unless you are booking a religious group) banks with community rooms, your children’s schools, community halls, charity and other not-for-profit organizations, local government building meeting rooms and others like your local chamber of commerce or business meeting rooms not in use over the weekend all shout cheap and have absolutely no relationship with the excitement of river cruises.
If you can find a hotel near your market focus and then negotiate last minute rates for meeting rooms this is the very best situation. Nothing is more perishable than an unsold meeting room and hotel sales managers are generally more than willing to work with someone that can perform on short notice. Since river cruise seminars enjoy a very short promotion to fruition cycle (usually less than 7-days) they are perfect for last minute meeting room rentals. Also, realize that there is always new revenue generated by meetings other than the room rental rate. Food and beverage will be impacted as will parking fees and employee gratuities.
The nicer the property the better the impact for potential river cruisers. Think of the room rental cost as an investment in your success. Potential river cruisers are clearly affluent and do not want to go to a seminar at the local Library.
Restaurants also make a great place to have your seminars. This is true especially if the restaurant enjoys a relationship with the products that you are selling. Many restaurants have separate rooms for the purpose of private parties and will jump at the opportunity to allow you to use it for a seminar, especially if the seminar occurs during a normally slow period for the restaurant. Scheduling your seminar after the much hour is over, but before the dinner crowd is a sure winner.
The fact that you are bringing an affluent crowd of potential new customers for the restaurant is a very valuable element of the negotiation. Typically one can negotiate light refreshments, wine tastings (for wine bars and restaurants) or other concessions.
Co-working facilities are another great potential. Check out https://www.davincimeetingrooms.com to find co-working facility opportunities near where your meetings will take place. Some of the meeting facilities can be very impressive and professional and that rates are motivating.
Plan Your Seminar
Now that you have negotiated your seminar venue you should plan your seminar. The most effective length is around 60-minutes. You might want to schedule something like this
10-minutes River Cruise Video
30-minutes Verbal Presentation
You should limit the seminar size to no more than 30 people, with 20 being the optimum. You should schedule multiple seminars in the same meeting room separated by an hour so that you can have follow up conversations with people in the prior seminar. If you have booked your meeting room for a 4-hour block then doing two seminars a day is quite practical, however only start filling the second one once the first seminar has met its desired head count.
You should be prepared to take booking requests during the second hour after each presentation by having an incentive that is only available if they book at that time. And again, make the reservation process simple and easy to do. Take a minimum deposit and just the minimum information needed start the reservation process. Your staff can follow up to gather all the detailed information later. Also have an appointment calendar available for those clients that would like to meet one-on-one to discuss their river cruise plans with you.
This is important. If you are hosting any food, wine, coffee and pastries and so on. Do not make them available until the conclusion of the seminar. This will encourage the seminar attendees to stick around so that you can talk with them individually.
And the key to successful river cruise sales is follow up. You should have the names and contact information for every person in attendance and respectful and punctual follow up is the key to closing sales.
Promote Your Seminar
By defining your market demographics it should be pretty easy to locate a publication that will reach your desired demographic. One agent uses a local newspaper in an area heavily populated with affluent 55+ communities. Since the Baby Boomer market is one of the best market segments for river cruises, this makes a ton of sense. By running an ad on Monday. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for a Friday seminar. The ad simply needs to state the seminar content and location. Your should also market your partner prominently in the ad as a joint seminar. This will convey the message that the content will be professional and that they are talking with the experts. You should also do a press release for the seminar and ask for some editorial support when you place the ad. Just about every newspaper has an “Upcoming Meetings and Events” sections, as do local news websites that will list your seminar for free.
Run an AdWords campaign targeted tightly on your market promoting the seminar. You can narrow its reach to baby boomers within your geographic market easily.
See if there is a local radio station that caters to your demographic within your target market area and run some-30 second spots on Monday through Thursday. See if you can get interviewed as part of the advertising package.
You should establish a website with the sole purpose of announcing the seminars and also taking reservations. By creating an email list of potential attendees you can easily make announcements of future seminars to those that have opted in to your email notification program.
You can use Facebook’s location targeting function by identifying the zip code of your target market and either focus on the zip code or set up a radius from the seminar location to market to. Unfortunately Facebook doesn’t allow the myriad of demographic targeting that AdWords does, but, you might be able to boost a post for just a couple hundred dollars that will saturate your market. You should create a specific Facebook business page focused solely on your seminars to use this tactic.
So there you have it. Seminars are a great way to sell river cruises and should never be overlooked.