Travel Professional NEWS® speaks with Michele Saegesser, Vice President of Sales, Viking Cruises
With 2017 upon us, what new things can we expect to see this year?
Viking is already seeing record breaking sales for the 2017 season. Europe is back and in force. Agents should be calling their clients to offer their expertise in river cruising. “Have you considered a river cruise?” Great question to open with!
What do you expect to be your most popular ships in 2017?
The Viking Longships set the bar high in river cruising. From full two room suites to staterooms with Verandas, Viking’s accommodations are of the highest standards and with the most choices of staterooms. With the youngest fleet in river cruising, the Longships have become the most popular choice for ships on the rivers.
What do you expect to be your most popular itineraries in 2017?
For first time river cruisers, the Rhine and the Danube are hands down the most popular itineraries this year. These two rivers show off what river cruising is really all about. Castles, small towns and villages, exciting cities-all a part of the experience you not only see from your Longship but also visit and experience the cultural enrichment of each area.
With Travel Professionals on the rise, will you be offering any new training or incentives for Travel Professionals to focus on your line?
The Viking Travel Agent Academy is the most recognized and only awarded river training program for travel professionals. The Academy is an in-depth look at what there is to experience on each itinerary and awards you a certificate to become a River Cruise Expert by each river. Vikingrivercruises.com/agents
What three things do you feel set your product apart from the competition?
Viking owns and operates our fleet, so no detail is missed. This is the biggest difference between the Viking experience and the competitors. Viking insists on the best and by owning and managing we can ensure everything from food quality to service to the land experience are all to our high standards.
Staff. Hands down the best staff on the rivers. Viking is the employer of choice on the rivers so we are able to hire the very best staff in each destination.
Small ship experts. Whether it is our river or our ocean programs, Viking has the largest expertise on managing a small ship program that focuses on the destination and the cultural enrichment side of a journey.
There has been a big increase in active River Cruising, what activities are currently being offered on your line? What may be next?
The Viking passenger is asking an even more intense cultural enrichment program. Many additional experiences have become available AND if a travel agent pre-books this before the client sails, we pay commission on the tours.
What generational market do you see your line focusing on as the capacity continues to grow? Do you have plans to focus on any specific market segment of River Cruise passengers?
The point? Viking stays focused on the one market that fills ships and continues to grow! There will be 98 million Americans by 2020 that will be in the 55+ market and of that many that fit the demographic guest that travels on Viking.
Many of the Rivers in Europe are being said to be a bit crowded, what are your plans to overcome that? Are there new itineraries and or destinations that you are looking into?
Freight travel still remains the main source of traffic on the rivers in Europe. But yes, river cruising is growing and with that come more travelers. Viking has added many new experiences including longer itineraries that include some land programs.
What three things would you like to share with our Travel Professionals to assist in selling your line?
You can never follow up with your clients too much. If you aren’t contacting your client in one way or another every 60 days, you will lose your client to another agency. Use Vikings self-mailer DVD to send to clients who fit the Viking profile with a little note “John and Edna, thought you would enjoy seeing some interesting itineraries from Viking. I know you were thinking of a river cruise.” I challenge all of your to just send one a day. JUST ONE A DAY! You will be very surprised to see how much business you can generate when you follow up a few days later.
Learn all you can. If you haven’t taken the Viking Travel Agent Academy courses, you are missing out on really understanding how to be more profitable and find the right client for the Viking product.
The one question that you should always ask your client: “Are you traveling with another couple?” As easy as this sounds, you likely aren’t asking this question. Over 40% of the Viking guests travel with another couple. You might as well get that booking too!
Many Travel Professionals have found their niche in River Cruising, what advice can you offer to a Travel Professional looking to break into this niche?
River cruising is not a niche. So if agents think of this as a niche product, they will never realize the potential they could have. Think of river cruising as the ultimate experience for guest and agent alike. For the Agent: Viking is the ONLY river and ocean line to offer No NCFs (we pay commission on all parts of the booking). Viking even pays commission on port charges; shipboard credits you buy your clients; pre booked shore excursions. If an agent focuses on the Viking product, they could make a living on just selling Viking.
Again, learn all you can. Put time into your day to become better with all the products your sell
Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Viking became successful because we focused on the same clientele since the beginning (55+ market; looking for a cultural enrichment experience; wants to be immersed into the communities they visit). Make sure you are focusing on the clientele you want to be working with. A passenger looking to book a $20,000 cruise is not looking for an agent who only advertises $499 cruises. Be aware of how you market your own business.
Predicting the future is difficult, but what do you think is next for the River Cruising market?
Viking will remain the leader in the river cruise market with our Cultural Curriculum programs and curated experiences through Privilege Access. We will build the finest ships to give guests the most choices in accommodations and with exceptional service.
Viking never stops looking for more in-depth experiences and that will continue to be our outlook for new product.