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Because the cruise industry sets its sights in the meetings and incentive market with renewed vigor, there are actually expanded opportunities for cruise-selling travel agencies to reel running a business clients.

“Corporate events and incentive travel represent a promising growth area for business cruising,” said Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Cruise Companies International Association. “Two-thirds of travel agents report they will likely book a conference or incentive cruise over the following one year,”

Contrary to cruise meetings, incentive programs on cruise ships possess a long-standing history. Although the market has evolved considerably in recent times, as has cruise ship design.

While more incentive travel are breaking into the incentive business, those that have long experience in the industry caution that we now have challenges for smaller players.

“The obstacles to entering this business are a little higher with incentives,” said David Kliman, president of The Kliman Group, a meetings consultancy firm. “Big companies curently have deeply-embedded long lasting buyer-supplier relationships.”

Retail agents need to look at their portfolio of relationships, he advised.

“The incentives market is very relationship-driven,” Kliman said. “Agents need to find out what services they are able to realistically provide to meeting professionals before they grab the telephone to inquire about business.”

Among travel companies who definitely have found success with incentives is Kathy Fitzgibbons who segued coming from a retail travel agency to Maritz Travel in St. Louis, the country’s largest incentive company.

She learned the company by working first with incentive “winners” who called directly into register for their company’s incentive programs. Eventually she worked her way up to become Maritz’ Travel Buyer and Cruise Specialist, serving as liaison with global cruise suppliers.

Fitzgibbons’ clients are derived from a number of industries. They range from the financial and automobile sectors, and also the direct-sell market, such as Avon. Her average group dimensions are 200 guests, but she recently blocked 600 cabins for an incentive event on the Mediterranean cruise.

Once aboard the ship, incentive programs run the gamut from casual towards the meetings-intense. But they all share a common feature: participants have worked hard for the trip.

“It’s exciting for somebody to find out that their reward is to be on a cruise,” Fitzgibbons said. “Usually, after the spouses find out which a cruise is involved, they apply the strain to win.”

Because cruising on the whole has yet to get a lot more than 20% of North American travelers, there exists a lot of possible ways to grow the incentive market, Fitzgibbons noted.

“I attempt to incorporate cruises whenever feasible once we are generating a proposal to get a client,” she said. “Sometimes, the business has not yet even considered it as a chance.”

Value and diversity are top selling points for cruise ship venues, she added.

The lion’s share of her incentive programs take place in the Caribbean or Alaska, Fitzgibbons said, adding that this Mediterranean has seen resurgence as well as the Adriatic is extremely hot.

River cruising is also attracting the incentive market, based on Fitzgibbons.

“In the 1990s we did a lot of river cruises, nevertheless the business went away,” she said. “Now, new vessels are launched with many different balconies, wi-fi, even alternate 49dexqpky venues. And, the ships stop whatsoever the small towns over the Danube, that is obviously something which larger ships don’t do.”

Agents considering cruise incentive sales should keep in mind that travel is simply one component of this business. Top firms offer full-service solutions which include creating and monitoring the underlying sales incentive programs.

Successful incentive planning involves overseeing activities both on / off the ship.

“We give your very best to make exclusive group experiences on shore excursions,” said Fitzgibbons. “We can perform that due to our strong relationships with all the top ground suppliers. We’re constantly seeking to provide that ‘wow’ factor.”

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