This year’s Selling Cruise Conference was arguably the best yet. From giving travel agents the opportunity to see Royal Princess, Anthem of the Seas and Britannia, to a world-class line-up of guest speakers and networking opportunities. Agents were told that the future of cruise is bright, but that they are going to have to work hard and master their craft if they want to be part of it.
One of the key speakers was Mark Kammerer, Holland America‘s vice president of marketing & sales, who flew over from the company’s head office in Seattle, to be part of the conference. Kammerer walked agents through his own personal sales strategy, telling them to use their time wisely and take the art of selling seriously. Despite being what many people would consider at the top of their profession, Kammerer said he was still constantly learning. He also stayed for the entire conference and was present at every session.
Cruise Adviser sat down with Kammerer to discuss Holland America’s global strategy and the art of sales.
CA: How do you market Holland America to a global audience?
Mark Kammerer: As most people know, we are a premium cruise line. Our European heritage comes from Holland and is now centred in America, which has helped us to understand how we market across the world. However, we now get a considerable amount of business out of America. We have offices in Southampton, Sydney and Rotterdam and do business in most countries around the world. We work hard to say the same things about our brand wherever we have a presence. Our key brand characteristics are centred on diversity of itinerary and our offering on board. Mostly this it is to remind people what a premium experience is and what it means. That might be slightly different depending on what country you are in, because there are different points of comparison.
CA: What are the Holland America key brand characteristics?
Mark Kammerer: Destination, entertainment, culinary service and the fact that our ships are mid-sized is true of any region we sell into. How those narratives are played going forward depends on how well the brand is known and how well cruising is known. We focus on which one will ring best with that audience.
CA: What is the mix between international guests and those from North America?
Mark Kammerer: Let’s just say it’s important to us. A number of years ago we made the decision to draw in more guests from around the world. The way I describe it is North America is now a large part of the company’s portfolio. We have had a presence in the UK for a long time and people now know us. It’s an important and interesting market; and one that is different from the US, which has been something I’ve been interested to learn about.
CA: What are the differences between the US and UK markets?
Mark Kammerer: There are three things: the population itself, what are UK travellers seeking? The timing at which they buy and then there’s the way in which they buy. What is it about our product that fits with UK travellers? Do we go to the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Alaska – yes. UK travellers plan their holidays quite like they do in America. If it’s a long-haul holiday it will be booked well in advance of a short-haul trip. However, the UK market is also a package holiday market, with land-based elements joined to a cruise. In the US they buy each component separately. So, if a travel agent wants to sell long-haul cruises, they need to package them accordingly.
CA: What is your message to UK travel agents?
Mark Kammerer: My message to UK travel agent is how you as an individual can become a better seller. I’ve been in the business for a long time and what I have noticed is that good travel agents, those who have developed their skills over time, are doing a bang up job. They’re still here and doing well. Those who don’t think of themselves as mastering the craft of sales, are not going to make it. You and I want to do business with someone who considers themselves a professional. It is a privilege to be in this business. People give us the opportunity to influence where they spend what is arguably the most important time of year for them – and certainly an amount of money that is precious to them. So that’s a responsibility. People who are professional understand that and take the responsibility for fitting the right product to that person.
CA: If you were to give one tip to travel agents, what would it be?
Mark Kammerer: The one tip I would say to travel agents is to slow down to speed up. The most precious asset you have is your time. So rather than racing through your diary every day, just step back. Work out what the most effective use of your time is. Where do you have the best opportunity to make a sale? Make sure you always have sales spread between prospecting and closing.
CA: During your career you have worked on both the product side and on the retail side?
Mark Kammerer: That’s right. I’ve worked for Holland America twice and Royal Caribbean too. I also launched the cruise business for Expedia and worked for Virtuoso. So I have sat where travel agents are sitting. I understand the complexities of having to know everything – which you just can’t do – and the challenges of clients.
CA: What difference will Koningsdam make to Holland America?
Mark Kammerer: It’s our first new ship in six years and it is an opportunity to show how we can demonstrate our understanding of today’s traveller through building a ship. We understand today’s travellers – we have continued to have our brand develop over time but when you have a new ship you can show it in a way that maybe people can’t hear when you show them one of your existing ships. It will energise our story – and the people who work for our company – and it gives us the opportunity to demonstrate all the elements that make our vacations. It is also a sign that our brand will continue to grow. The new ship represents a large commitment on behalf of the corporation and it means they believe in the future of the company.