Paul and Jo-Ann Kennedy: Building Relationships
Left to right: Cruise Specialist, Margaret Jones; Managing Director for Fred. Olsen Travel, Steve Williams; Cruise Specialists: Becky Henderson, Tony Hammond, Jo-Ann Kennedy, Paul Kennedy, Andrew Davies; and Head of Cruise for GoCruise, Geoff Ridgeon.
As is the case with many new-to-cruise travellers; if you love your first holiday on the seas, you’ll be hooked for life. Paul and Jo-Ann Kennedy were relatively new to cruise when they joined GoCruise in 2001 but instantly fell in love. Their sparkling sales skills have seen them rise from strength to strength as cruise specialists.
We spoke to Paul and Jo-Ann Kennedy, who are based in Preston, Lancashire. They decided to share their experiences with GoCruise Franchise and their favourite moments from working in the cruise industry.
In a previous life, Paul and Jo-Ann worked in the banking industry and enjoyed their customer service roles. This slowly changed over time, with more emphasis being placed on the internet and working in front of a screen. They decided to leave in 2001 and joined Cruise Specialists, which later became Victoria Travel, before being established as GoCruise in 2003.
Whilst neither Paul nor Jo-Ann had gained too much experience in the cruise industry, the idea of engaging with customers and establishing relationships on a one-to-one level was particularly appealing. "The banking industry isn't what it used to be. Cruise seemed like a nice industry to work in and we were able to bring our people skills and sales skills."
Once joining the GoCruise Franchise, Paul, Jo-Ann and their son decided to embark on a cruise with Royal Caribbean from Miami. They were very impressed with the general holiday experience, destinations visited and the number of amenities provided on board the ship.
"Cruise seemed like a nice industry to work in and we were able to bring our people skills and sales skills."
Life with GoCruise
Transferring from working as part of teams in the banking industry to working alone required plenty of organisation, but was a welcome change for Paul and Jo-Ann. “We missed the office camaraderie, but there was a strong appeal in being our own boss. It was liberating. However, make no mistake, we had to work very hard as there were no pay cheques at the end of the month and if we didn't work, no money would come in.”
“We start off the morning by responding to enquiries and responding to calls. Wherever possible, we try to forward plan – setting up campaigns for the future and organising event and marketing strategies. Until the phone rings, it’s important to keep busy.”
Trying to attract customers is one of the most difficult tasks when starting a new career in the travel industry. “GoCruise is not a get-rich-quick scheme, you have to be prepared to put the work in and build relationships with clients. That can take 2/3 years.”
Paul and Jo-Ann have established strong communication skills and many of their existing clients have come from returning customers and recommendations. When they started in the business, customers were obtained via Teletext and the Yellow Pages and this is how they started to build a database. Emphasis is put on the importance of looking after the customer, ensuring they have a great experience and doing everything possible to attract them into booking with you time and time again.
Working in the travel industry, you are exposed to natural hazards and the eruption of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjaffajokull, in 2010 led to widespread air-travel disruption. “The ash cloud meant that many people were stuck around the world. We had a client in Bangkok, and the situation was mad at the airport because the information was non-existent.”
“Several of the leading providers’ call centres were struggling to cope with the demand, but our client was able to get straight through to us and we sought further information. We told the client to check-in to the hotel, enjoy the sights and that we would call when there was more information. They were very impressed with the service we provided and were able to relax."
"They were very impressed with the service we provided and were able to relax.”
Since 2003, the internet has improved tremendously and the ability to make bookings online has made life considerably easier. “Obviously it’s easier and quicker to obtain information via the internet, but it hasn’t made a large difference for us. The success for us lies in the personal service and you must remember that you’re always as good as your last sale."
The unique selling point for GoCruise specialists is the personalised, bespoke service which allows customers to build flexible holiday experiences on the best-suited cruise lines. Unrivalled communication before and after embarkation and availability during a customer’s holiday provides a huge advantage over other providers.
"There are plenty of difficulties working in the cruise industry. We joined GoCruise in March 2001 and people thought we were brave to enter the industry." Following 9/11, Paul emphasised how open you are in the travel industry to world events and disasters that are out of your control.
In 2015, most days pass without any problems. When the phone rings in the early hours, however, there is usually cause for concern. "We'd be asleep and, at 5:30am, the phone starts ringing. If that happens then it's a cause for alarm. We could have a customer in Venice, Brisbane or anywhere around the world asking for help because something's gone wrong." The availability of GoCruise specialists 24 hours a day is a unique selling point and provides customers with peace of mind should anything not go according to plan.
"We'd be asleep and, at 5:30 am, the phone starts ringing. If that happens then it's a cause for alarm."
More recently, Paul and Jo-Ann were invited to the Travel Weekly Globe Awards event for being the top sellers of Royal Caribbean cruises with GoCruise and amongst the top five sellers of Royal Caribbean Cruises in the country. “It was like the Oscars of the travel world. Many awards were handed out during the evening and then Paul Kennedy and four other people were called onto the stage.”
“There were at least 350 people there and the screen behind us came on showing Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas. They announced that we’d each won a cruise to New York on board Quantum of the Seas. We thought that was great, but then there was also an additional prize for one of us – a Tiffany diamond!”
“We each had an envelope and Ben Bouldin of Royal Caribbean opened one at random. He announced Paul and Jo-Ann had won! It was unbelievable!” It goes to show that it may be difficult to secure bookings at first, but if you spend years of building up a rapport with each of your customers, the rewards will soon follow.
As family cruisers, Paul and Jo-Ann have found Royal Caribbean particularly appealing and have fond memories of their first cruise from Miami. “Royal Caribbean is a great firm for families. We went on board and our children soon found their own clubs and were having a really great time.”
Paul also gave his thoughts on the new Royal Caribbean Quantum Class ship: Quantum of the Seas. “The tech on board is absolutely amazing – no wonder it’s being called the first ‘Smart-ship’. The North Star, Rip Cord and Surf Rider all appeal to a younger cruise market. It’s fantastic for families.”
Advice and Tips
Paul and Jo-Ann have three main tips to pass on to anyone thinking of becoming a cruise specialist with GoCruise Franchise:
- IT skills are important, but be prepared to place it down the list in terms of importance.
- The most important task is to talk to people. Talk to customers either face to face or over the phone. Understand their individual needs and build a cruise that's perfect for them.
- If you aren't familiar with cruise travel, get a feel for it and learn how it works. Learn how staff and crew operate, the lifestyle on board the particular ship and the quality of ports visited.
Paul and Jo-Ann Kennedy have proven that you do not necessarily need to have a background in cruise travel to be successful with GoCruise Franchise. Importance is largely focussed on your ability to communicate with customers and develop a strong product knowledge.
Want to work in an industry where the rewards are endless? Like the idea of determining your own schedule? Why not follow in Paul and Jo-Ann's footsteps and enquire about becoming a cruise specialist? Our dedicated team at GoCruise Franchise are ready to answer any enquiries you have. You can contact us via the Freephone Number above or complete an Online Enquiry Form.