We’ve all seen the TV advertisements for Royal Caribbean or Carnival right? If you are a certain age, you’re mail box is probably inundated with marketing materials from Viking and Oceania. And if you are looking at Bridal magazines, you’re no doubt familiar with Sandals resorts. So as a consumer, the question is – who else is out there and how do you find them? For our purposes we’ll use the term “alternative suppliers” as those that don’t advertise direct to consumers.
How do you find alternative suppliers?
Let’s address the second question first – how do I find all those different suppliers. You have several options.
- Ask everyone you know (in person and via social media)
- Do extensive searches on the internet
- Use a really good travel agent
These are not mutually exclusive of course. Many of our clients have already done steps 1 and 2 before they seek our advice. Or they try their best at least. There’s two potential problems with these first two options though. First, some very good suppliers simply aren’t available to consumers regardless of your Google search skills. Second, there’s so many suppliers that listing them all, ranking them in terms of quality and value and then filtering them down to top choices can be overwhelming.
We should be clear however that this does not apply to near-commodity products like airline tickets or simple hotel requests in well known cities. For these type of situations, in many cases you’re better off Googling and asking opinions of friends. But for a $5,000 stay at a Caribbean resort, a $10,000 European river cruise or a $30,000 cruise around South America, the advice of a real good travel agent well yield some great results.
Just who are these alternative suppliers?
Ever hear of Azamara Club Cruises or Silversea or Hurtigruten or Le Boat or Paul Gauguin or Star Clippers? For the right client these are much better ocean cruise lines than Carnival or Royal Caribbean.
Ever hear of Travel Impressions, Avanti Destinations, CIE Tours, Collette Tours, G Adventures, Contiki Holidays, or Monograms? For the right situation these suppliers can offer great value and fit for land vacations.
How about Uniworld, Tauck River Cruises, AmaWaterways, Crystal River Cruises or Avalon? These hidden gem of river cruise lines might just offer a better fit for you than Viking does.
In future posts, we’ll discuss each of these suppliers, but for now you should know they exist. A great travel agent can save you time by directing you to certain suppliers once they know you and know what you want and need. For example, if we know your budget is limited, don’t waste your time looking at Crystal River Cruises.
Jacks or specialize?
It’s hard to be a Jack of all trades. Just imagine each of the suppliers above have different offerings or features, products, pricing, promotions and target clients. For someone to know all of these things for each supplier is overwhelming. In travel, a Jack of all trades is a tough row to hoe. There are however, specialists and this enables the travel agent to dive deep into a particular supplier and really get to know which client fits with which supplier.
Of course with experience most really good travel agents have at least good knowledge of many of the key suppliers. And of course they have the skills, contacts and available resources to find out things that they don’t quite know yet. So an experienced agent can help even when they don’t specialize.
Here’s an example: one of our specialties are river cruises. But when a client wants an Alaska Ocean cruise we can still provide expert advice. Why? first we’ve been there already. Second, we’ve been exposed to the suppliers sufficiently in trade shows and conferences to know who offers what type of product. Third, we’ve sold sufficient numbers of Alaskan cruises over time to get good feedback from clients. Finally, at our disposal are the latest promotions and offerings – including items that are simply not advertised or even available on the suppliers web sites
So it’s good to specialize and really good to work with an experienced agent to help with the non specialized suppliers.
So why do some suppliers advertise directly to consumers? Fundamentally, they want to grow in scale. When Viking added 19 ships to their fleet in a year, they desperately needed to fill those ships. When Carnival launches the next 3000 passenger ship, they really need to fill it with passengers. But isn’t that true for the alternative suppliers that don’t advertise? Well, sort of. If your growth is more organic – say adding 1 river cruise ship a year in stead of 19, you can rely on other means than direct to consumer advertising. when you only need to fill 500 cabins instead of 3000, you can be choosy as to how you gain name recognition. Because face it, advertising is very expensive.
Lines with good reputations, a strong product, great relationships with travel agents prefer NOT to advertise so they can do what they do best: provide the client with a great experience. That doesn’t mean that you won’t have a great time on a Sandals Jamaican vacation – of course you will. They have a great product; we’ve been to their Turks and Caicos Beeches property at least 8 times. We’ve had great times on Royal Caribbean ships as well. But the point is that there’s always alternatives and sometimes those alternatives are a better fit than the suppliers that advertise. And that’s why you need to find them
So what did we learn?
- What are alternative suppliers? Those travel suppliers that don’t advertise direct to the consumer
- Who are these alternative suppliers? We listed some in the post above. Chances are you haven’t heard of most of them.
- How do I find these alternative suppliers? (really how do I know if they are a good fit for me)? A great travel agent is a great way – in our view it’s the most expedient, objective and comprehensive method available.
Stay tuned to learn more about some of these alternative suppliers.