Vacation.com Aims To Connect 1st Time Cruisers With Agents

Cruise Week
A clear and present danger for cruise sellers is the potential for 1st time buyers to book direct instead of going to agents. This week's Vacation.com conference held aboard Quantum of the Seas tackled the issue head on.

“One of the biggest challenges from the leisure distribution side is connecting the online consumer with the expert offline," said Vacation.com President John Lovell.

Vacation.com is responding by using its URL to bring consumers to agents. Visitors to the website are now presented with information on local agents, based on the agents' areas of expertise, such as cruise, tour or adventure and even preferred suppliers.

Lovell bluntly told agent delegates, “We made a lot of false starts since the organization was founded back in 1998/99. I stood on this stage many times and said, 'We're going to do something with our URL.'"

Yet until now it hasn't happened, and for a company named after a website, Vacation.com has done surprisingly little with its actual website.

“Everybody has always thought our website has great value and we could do a lot with it," Lovell told V.com members. “But ultimately at the end of the day, nobody wanted to disintermediate you. Our greatest asset is you. We're taking an asset of significant value and we're going to feature you on it."

During the subsequent press conference Lovell said the consumer is looking for an expert. “They're looking for somebody that can give them that professional guidance that they need, that they want. But there's very few people that are connecting those two. So you're really left with them saying, 'OK, I can go to this site and maybe find somebody - but do I really know [how helpful they will be]?'"

Lovell referred to recent studies that conclude this is particularly true of the much coveted millennial market. He expressed satisfaction with where Vacation.com is today in terms of moving forward in that regard. “The domain site gives us the ability to do a lot," he said. “From here forward we can do some unique things with the agent profile to grow the business for our members and for our suppliers."

Essentially he says it will increase their customer base. “This is not to sell a commoditized product, this is experiential, this is helping them drive a return on their vacation and leisure dollar. That's what people want help with."

Stephen McGillivray, Chief Marketing Officer for Travel Leaders Group, said, “This is really our 1 st serious push into finding agent members new customers. When we survey them, what they want is new customers."

Yet the marketing until today has been to existing customer lists. “That's retention marketing, and even the vendors, while they love going to the retailers' customers, it's just moving share around," said McGillvray. “They all want the same thing, they want new to brand, new to cruise, new to tour. That's what this is: going after new customers for retailers."





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