In March of 2020, I attended my last in person event for the year. Ironically, it was a CruiseOne/Dream Vacations training event held in Long Beach, CA. We were supposed to conclude our training and have a tour of one of the Carnival ships that was in port. On Friday the 13th, 2020, all cruise lines announced that they were ceasing operations due to the Covid 19 Pandemic. Travel agencies, like most businesses and organizations needed to find an effective way to communicate. Zoom became hugely popular overnight with its free option and ease of use.
Many of my organizations that I belonged to started using it including my Kiwanis Club Meetings, my DBE Board meetings, and my weekly business networking club. Zoom ended up being the venue for our 2020 CruiseOne/Dream Vacations National Conference. I have never been able to attend in the past as my husband wanted to use his vacation time from his full time job to actually vacation, not attend a sales conference. I was able to attend in 2020 as the entire conference was hosted by headquarters and all of our cruise suppliers via the Zoom virtual meeting rooms. We had break out sessions and vendor rooms where we could pop in and out and chat for a while. We even had guests lecturers like travel writer Gene Sloan who is now with “The Points Guy” blog visit and provide their perspective on the industry. We even had live entertainers join us from the cruise lines to perform for us.
As the pandemic social distancing continued, I also realized that I needed an effective way to communicate the ever changing protocols to my clients and to continue to market my business for the return to travel that would eventually be coming.
For my large groups, I hosted meetings that included detailed information about the ports we would be visiting and the different options for excursions in each port. I also hosted an “Iceland and Ireland Reunion” where the folks who went on that cruise in 2019 could attend and share pictures and memories from that cruise. As the cruise lines worked with health and safety experts to develop protocols that would allow cruising to resume as the safest and healthiest way to travel, I included those details in my briefings. I also started a travel lovers book club that met once a month via Zoom and read books about destinations that we hoped to visit in 2022 and 2021.
Now, as the ability to travel is returning, I have found hosting Zoom meetings to be also a great way to market cruises. What people need is truth and information to be comfortable traveling again. In fall and winter of 2020, I attended a Zoom presentation on Avalon Waterways where the Avalon representative talked about the advantages of the small group river cruise and the sanitation protocols that they would have in place when river cruising returns. I realized that this would be a great opportunity to share this river cruise company with my clients and encourage them to book something for Fall of 2021 or later. I had the Avalon rep who lives in Colorado attended and she presented part of the meeting and I did the other half. We stressed that we were looking for long term bookings when we feel like everything will be back up and running and people could actually travel. Avalon also had an amazing suite upgrade promotion that applied to many itineraries in 2021 and 2022. I wanted to get that once in a lifetime booking opportunity out to my clients who might be ready to start planning. Some of the folks who attended those meetings booked and sailed on a wonderful Danube cruise in the fall of 2021 with no issues and some of the other folks will be doing a lower Danube cruise in Fall of 2022.
I also have used Zoom to share my Wine Lovers Ocean Cruises on Celebrity. It is an effective way to share the wonderful onboard program and unique amenities offered only to the members of a wine maker hosted group. We were marketing these groups to sail in 2021 to Norway and 2022 to Argentina and Antarctica, however due to Covid, both groups got pushed out a year to 2023. I believe that the strong relationships and trust that I have built by hosting informational Zoom sessions along the way, was the reason that 95% of those booked for the 2021 and 2022 cruises moved out with us to 2022 and 2023.
2022 and 2023 look to be strong years for the travel business. There is so much pent up demand for the product that many folks are willing to spend more than usual to have an incredible travel experience. This Nov 2021, we are going to be doing our first in person marketing event since March of 2020. We will have a booth at the Garagiste Wine festival in Paso Robles, CA. After that event, which will have folks from all around the country attending, we are going to host a Zoom event to promote our 2022 and 2023 wine cruises. Ascension Cellars will be at the booth next to our table and they are co-hosting the May 2022 Wine Lover’s Cruise to Norway and the 2023 Burgundy and Provence for Wine Lovers river cruise. We will have QR codes right on our signage to get folks to sing up for the Zoom event right at the festival. Our hope is the Zoom event will provide the information and answer questions that will be able to get folks excited and comfortable with the idea of traveling again.
Many of us who worked form home during the lock down portion of the pandemic were feeling quite a bit of “Zoom Fatigue” by late 2020. However, with many folks our of necessity learning how to do Zoom during the lock downs, I feel that this effective and convenient communications tool is here to stay.