Which of the many marketing tools, aimed at both travel agents and consumers, do the travel agents find are most effective in selling a cruise?

For the travel agent, familiarization trips and brochures are most helpful; and for the consumer, more education about the value of a cruise vacation, according to a recent CIN survey of travel agents across the country.

The survey revealed that many customers still feel that cruising is expensive, despite the heavy discounting that has characterized the industry for the past several years. It also revealed that agents are more likely to promote the lines that provide them with information most frequently, as well as those that the public is most familiar with.

In terms of which marketing activities were most effective in helping agents book a cruise, familiarization trips were the number one choice, with 73 percent of the agents rating them a 10 (on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most effective). Eleven percent assigned them either an 8 or 9 and only 5 percent gave fam trips an effectiveness rating below 5.

Brochures were the next choice, but they only received a 10 from 10 percent of the agents. Eighteen percent gave them a 9; 18 percent, an 8; and 20 percent, below 5.

The agents were more lukewarm about personal calls from sales representatives, with 23 percent rating them a 5. Ten percent gave them a 10; 5 percent, a 9; and 15 percent, an 8. Twenty percent gave them scores below 5.

Newsletters received the most lukewarm response, with 80 percent of the agents assigning them a 5 or 6. No one gave them a 10. Five percent of the agents gave them a 9 and 8 gave them an 8. Twenty percent rated their effectiveness below 5.

In evaluating both personal calls and newsletters, several agents qualified their answers by noting that in many instances, "it depended on the rep or newsletter." Specifically, they felt both are more effective when they provide accurate and frequent updates on special promotions and discounts, and changes in itineraries.

Agents were most divided about the effectiveness of video cassettes, assigning them everything from 10 (3 percent) to zero (10 percent).

TV and Newspaper Ads Are Best Sellers

In terms of which marketing promotions aimed at consumers are most effective, television and newspaper ads were the big winners, with 45 percent and 40 percent of the agents' votes, respectively. Cruise nights came in a distant third with 10 percent of the vote.

In evaluating specific discounts, 40 percent of the agents felt that Seasavers are "very effective," and 40 percent felt they are "moderately effective." Eighteen percent said they are "not effective at all."

As for Early Bird Discounts, 30 percent of the agents said they are "very effective;" 60 percent answered "moderately;" and 3 percent responded "not at all."

When asked about the discount trend in general, forty-eight percent of the agents said they believe it is "very effective, 20 percent said "moderately," and 20 percent answered "not at all." However, respondents from all groups expressed hesitations about the discounting trend, saying they felt it was "unfortunately brought on by the lines." Others said they felt the discounting trend "causes chaos;" "creates more ill-will than goodwill;" and "defeats good yields and stable prices."

Despite the discounts, however, 40 percent of the agents said that many of their clients think that cruising is expensive, and 15 percent said that "some" of their clients feel this way. Although 40 percent said that many of their clients do not feel that cruising is expensive, they added that their clients felt this way only after an agent had shown them "the real value of a cruise."

More Consumer Education Needed

Educating the consumer about the real value of a cruise vacation is what 50 percent of the agents would like to see CLIA emphasize most in its upcoming generic advertising campaign.

Thirteen percent also said they would like to see CLIA encourage more consumers to "see their travel agent," stressing that agents are well-qualified to help clients choose the appropriate cruise.

Many agents also said that they would like to see CLIA stress the variety of activities available aboard ship, and the idea that there is a cruise for everyone.

Service is Key Factor in Cruise Quality

When asked, in an open-ended question, to name the most important feature in judging the quality of a cruise, the agents chose service 40 percent of the time. In many cases, they added that the attitudes of the staff were their overriding concern.

In rating the importance of specific criteria, on a scale of one to 10 (10 being the most important), agents gave the ship a 10 more often (33 percent) than any other factor. Twenty-three percent gave the ship a 9; and 13 percent gave it an 8.

Food and the particular cruise line tied for second, each receiving 10s from 30 percent of the agents. Each also received a 9 from 23 percent of the agents, before food slightly edged out the cruise line factor, receiving 18 percent of the vote compared to the latter's 15 percent.

Compliance with health standards appeared to be either very important or not important at all.

It received the fourth highest number of 10s (10 percent); and nines and eights from a total of 16 percent. However, 13 percent of the agents gave it a 5 and another 13 percent gave it a 3.

Cabin size was deemed fairly important in judging the quality of a cruise, with 20 percent of the agents assigning it an 8; and 20 percent a 7. Five percent gave it a 10, and 3 percent, a 9.

Responses concerning the importance of passenger to crew ratios were scattered: 10 percent gave it a 10; 8 percent, 9; and 18 percent, 5, 6 and 8.

Feelings about entertainment fell in the middle, with about 45 percent of the respondents evenly divided among the 5, 6 and 7 ratings. Thirteen percent gave entertainment an 8; 3 percent assigned it a 9; and 8 percent said it was most important.

The age of the ship was considered least important, with only 3 percent assigning it a 10; and 25 percent a 5. The rest of the agents' responses were evenly distributed throughout the scale.