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Monday,  July 15, 2024 8:05 AM 

Agents helping agents: How this TravelOnly team used collaboration to sell a group luxury cruise

Agents helping agents: How this TravelOnly team used collaboration to sell a group luxury cruise
TravelOnly’s Pat Probert & Mary de Almeida (far left) collaborated with other agents in their network to sell a French Polynesia cruise with Regent Seven Seas. (Supplied)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Booking a cruise when a schedule first comes out can often result in the best deals.

So when TravelOnly’s Pat Probert and Mary de Almeida of Bob Family Travel began planning a 2024 South Pacific cruise with Regent Seven Seas, two years ago, they strategically scooped up space to ensure their clients were paying the best prices.

“Booking in advance has great benefits,” Probert says, noting that his group ended up paying 30 to 50 per cent less than what prices were selling for in the last month before their cruise departed.

Fast-forward to last February, and the long-awaited 12-night voyage through French Polynesia finally arrived, welcoming 178 passengers who filled almost 100 suites aboard Seven Seas Navigator – including several top-end accommodations like Master Suites, Grand Suites, Navigator Suites and Penthouse Suites.

Everyone was able to book steakhouse dinners at no cost and other specialty restaurants as everything was included, from premium beverages, tips and shore excursions.

From left: TravelOnly’s Mary de Almeida & Pat Probert of the Bob Family Travel team. (Supplied)

And, as part of the itinerary, 340 total room nights were booked at the InterContinental Hotel in Papeete, French Polynesia’s capital.

By all standards, the luxurious voyage was a roaring success that solidified the value of working with a travel professional.

But Probert and de Almeida, who’ve been selling cruise vacations for 25 years, didn’t work alone.

What brought the booking to life was the fact that they invited other TravelOnly advisors to sell space, reaching out to “Rock Star Agents” as far back as 2021 with an opportunity to collaborate.

“How awesome is it to spend time with your fellow colleagues travelling the world?” says Probert.

TravelOnly’s Pat Probert gives two thumbs up in French Polynesia. (Supplied)

In total, 13 TravelOnly advisors joined Probert and de Almeida on the high-end booking. Agents not only helped sell rooms, but they also joined the voyage itself to help out and assist.

Teamwork makes the dream work

It's just one example of how teamwork makes the dream work.

Collaboration plays a pivotal role in achieving success in the travel industry. The support and encouragement between likeminded travel advisors (even if competitors) can make all the difference – not only in the quality of a travel experience, but also in one’s bottom line.

The TravelOnly advisors who joined Probert and de Almeida in the South Pacific were Marcia and Craig White, Nicola and Joerg Radde, Terry and Sandy Declare, Wendy Sedore, Maria Plouffe, Shellie Sedore and Kevin Wain, David Wiebe and Sonja Hollingworth and Kimberly Toth.

“Working together with all the agents is what made this so successful,” Probert says.  

It also helps that Probert and de Almeida run a well-oiled machine.

de Almeida kept the group organized using spreadsheets as “we had over 900 seat selections on the flights, different room categories both on and off the ship, and many room changes – including right up to the end when a number of clients and agents bought upgrades to a higher-class suite,” Probert says.

Probert, meanwhile, was in charge of processing the bookings.

It wasn’t the first time the duo collaborated with other TravelOnly agents to sell a group cruise. The pair have also teamed up with colleagues on group bookings with Celebrity Cruises, Uniworld, Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines. 

“Agents should band together, whether they are in Halifax, Toronto, Calgary, Victoria, and all points in between,” Probert says. “With today’s technology, it’s like you are next door to each other.”

How’d they do it?

Having group leaders and agents that are trusted are “very important” when sharing group space, Probert says, crediting de Almeida’s leadership in making the Regent cruise a “seamless” journey.  

After all, there are many moving parts in a group cruise, from keeping track of the number of passengers to booking transfers (to hotels, airports and ships) to coordinating tours and excursions.

Having extra hands in the South Pacific helped manage the logistics, bringing an enhanced efficiency to the group overall, Probert says.  

TravelOnly agents dealt with their clients directly, all the while reporting any updates to de Almeida, who’d then update her spreadsheets. It was the best way to keep track of what everyone was doing and who was attending what, Probert says.  

From left: TravelOnly’s Terry Declare and Pat Probert. (Supplied)

Those valuable spreadsheets also helped local operators know who was coming in on what flights and on what days.

At the same time, clients were treated to perks thanks to Probert and de Almeida’s tight relationships with the Regent sales team and Ensemble, TravelOnly’s consortium.

Bonus benefits, such as onboard credits and exclusive parties (such as a Tahitian dance show, a party at the InterContinental, and a Canadian Caesar and American Bloody Mary party on the first night of the cruise), were abound.

“We could not negotiate some of these deals without our past track record and our strong relationships with suppliers and partners,” Probert says. “It must be a win-win-win for our clients, the cruise or tour operators and TravelOnly/agents.”

While the Regent sailing was a big group, the voyage wasn’t the largest group Probert and de Almeida have ever led.

That title goes to a Celebrity Cruises: the duo once hosted 200 clients and agents on an invite-only “Seminar at Sea,” where more than 100 TravelOnly agents, partners and guests joined the Bob Family Travel team in the Caribbean ten years ago.

But the takeaway from that cruise, and many cruises after, has been consistent: collaboration works.

“Everything went without a hitch [in the South Pacific] due to the organization and support of all the agents,” Probert says.

The Bob Family Travel team is now looking forward to a cherry blossom trip in Japan with more than 100 cabins in March 2026 with Celebrity – “and at this point, we are looking forward to sharing our space with a select few agents,” Probert says.

Probert’s top tips

Inspired to book a group of your own with other agents? Here’s Probert’s top tips for collaborating on group space.  

1. Spell out the expectations

“You need to spell out what is expected of the agents, and you need to have agents you can trust,” Probert says.

2. Be honest & transparent

The trip’s group leader needs to make sure clients that belong to other agents will always belong to those agents, Probert says.

“And the leaders should delete any emails and contact info after the trip,” he says.  

3. Communication is key

Each agent must be fully engaged and be included in any email correspondence that is sent to the agent’s clients, Probert says.

“This should either go directly from the agent or have the agent copied in,” he says. “Sharing groups can be scary when agents are sharing their client info with the group leaders, but with trust, it should be a smooth process.”

4. Respect the boundaries

With collaboration also comes boundaries to ensure that everyone’s business is safe and secure, Probert says.

“No agents should ever engage other agent’s clients on a cruise other than general conversation,” he says. “And they should never share their own trips with other agents’ clients during or after a trip.”

Agents should also never collect info or share their own details with another agent’s client, nor should they friend them on social media, Probert says.

If Probert catches an agent dealing with another agent’s clients on his group trips, they are “forever banned,” he says.

“If any client, family member, friend, referral ever comes to any agent that was due to the agent being part of a group, the agent needs to immediately contact the agent where this connection came through so they can book the new lead or client,” Probert says. “We are all family, and we need to trust each other.”

However: “These are some of the things that build trust and make sharing groups amazing.”

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