Selling Cruises During a Lockdown? Here's How One Travel Agent Does It.
It’s sounds like an impossible task: Book people on cruises during a global pandemic.
Mike Ziegenbalg has done it, though. He’s the owner of a Dream Vacations travel agency franchise in northern Georgia, and he has booked 28 people on a cruise so far. He expects to book many more. Because the way he sees it, lockdown isn’t killing the travel industry. It’s just creating pent-up demand.
So how’d he make the sales? It all starts with a foundation he laid seven years ago, when he started a “travel club” in his community. It’s a regular gathering of people with wanderlust, who talk about travel and learn about new destinations. The club has attracted 500 members — and when his state went into lockdown, he decided to keep the club going virtually.
Here, Ziegenbalg explains what happened next.
How did you decide to keep the travel club going?
To be honest, it took a few weeks to come to full realization that this lockdown was not going to be over anytime soon. I live in the same community as my travel club, and I’m always in contact with many of my members; some have cruises on the books in the future, and many of them contact me for advice. I got many comments about how they missed the meetings, so I assumed many would show interest in some type of meeting if it was done online.
Was it hard making the transition to virtual?
We had about 50 in attendance. I used Zoom, which is funny — as of about two months prior to this, I didn’t even know what Zoom was!
You got bookings out of these meetings! That seems like a big accomplishment — selling travel when nobody's able to travel. How'd you manage it?
My belief is people want to travel again and are ready. I chose a particular destination that’s far enough out — it’s in November of 2021 — and I think that was important. We weren’t just another general “travel webinar.” Our focus was on one cruise line (AmaWaterways) and one product (Egypt), and I said, “I’m ready to go with you, so who’s ready?”
How did you reassure people that it would be safe to cruise?
We went over Ama's rigorous attention to cleanliness and the benefits of small river cruising. The AmaDahlia in Egypt only holds a max of 68 passengers — a key point, I believe, in the new cruising experience. All that, together with the idea of traveling in late 2021, made for a very high confidence level. Also, I will be escorting this trip, which is a confidence builder.
These are scary times for every industry, but that doesn't mean business has stopped. What's been your big takeaway from this experience?
Clients will travel again, consumers will purchase again and they are ready now. We as entrepreneurs just need to give them a reason to book and/or purchase. The big takeaway here is: Don’t just wait for them to call or come to you. Clear your mind and come up with new ideas and solutions. I never thought I would be hosting virtual seminars — but it worked! I have an encore presentation this coming Wednesday and another vendor scheduled for the end of the month. Stay tuned for more success.