Episode 3

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Published on:

5th Mar 2020

Eric Goldring - From Marine Biologist to Seabourn Cruises #1 Agent

Dan Chappelle (00:00):

Today we have Eric gold ring from Goldring travel in Truckee, California. And so we want to welcome him. He has a great story to tell. It started his career as an attorney and has become a very ultra successful travel professional. So welcome. Eric. Welcome to the show. Well, thank you. It's nice to be here. So tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got, you know, I mean, that's a big transition going from a practicing law and to helping people have a fantastic vacations. How did you fall into that? Well, I actually started as a Marine biologist. Wow. And I loved that,

Eric Goldring (00:54):

But I was starving. So my boss at the national Marine fishery service said, why don't you become an environmental lawyer? So I was able to combine my Marine biology and the law and became an environmental lawyer. Now while I was in law school and the struggling young lawyer, I dated somebody who was an interior designer and her firm was tasked with doing some of the interiors on Royal Caribbean second ship, the song of America. So my first cruise was on the song of Norway and I loved it and it was free. So that was even better.

Eric Goldring (01:31):

Anyway, so from there, that was sort of my cruise introduction and then it went away and now I'm a environmental lawyer and somebody came in with a problem with a very large job into the law firm and nobody knew anything about it. And they were okay. Eric fish, water boats, it's all the same thing. You've got the case. So I wound up at the age of 23 before the U S court of appeals, arguing some very technical maritime things and I want that now. Made me a yacht Maven. And I was in the superyacht industry, which is luxury travel in a way. I mean it's buying, selling, chartering, all that. So I was involved with charters like Oprah, Rupert Murdoch, rock and roll people, Russian oligarchs. And I had to, I learned how to deliver a luxury product. The downside of all of that was it was exhausting, stressful.

Eric Goldring (02:28):

Nobody was ever satisfied and you made money, but you spend a lot of money trying to find happiness and that's not a healthy. So I eventually got my ex wife to agree to go on a cruise and my first family cruise was on the big red boat premier crew. Remember that? Right. And it was falling apart and it was a disaster. But I went to one of the big cruise agencies and I said, give me the best suite on a ship. Well, they gave me the suite and then I looked at the deck plans because I could do that from my background. I was like, well, what about the owner's suite? And they were like, well, you have a family. I go, yeah, but how much is the owner suite? They go, well, it's $25 more, but there's a $200 change. And that kind of set me off. I got the owner's suite. There were other things they told me that wasn't true because they just didn't know. Right. So I complained, I want to do a second cruise. Same thing happened. So while I'm this big superyacht lawyer, I'm speaking to the supervisor at this large agency with tons of outside agents. And she said, you know, more than my agents do. So I said give me a job.

Eric Goldring (03:44):

And so I wound up being an outside agent for one of these big agencies. And then eventually, you know, you're just selling to friends and whatever and trying to figure it out. But eventually I was like, why do I need them? What are they giving me? They're really not. And at the same time I was involved with cruise critic posting things and people were saying things that weren't true and I knew they weren't true because they couldn't be, this is my lawyer mind working or having been on cruises. And then in, you know, the travel business to a degree is dealing with yachts. And eventually I got banned from cruise critic cause I was calling people out and my daughter then told me about a thing called a blog and you could write what you thought. So I would go to cruise critics, see what people were saying, you giving me ideas for stories and I would write the stories and then I got a following as I get the falling, my travel business started to increase.

Eric Goldring (04:41):

So I went from being a lawyer and a travel agent to being a lawyer and a travel agent to becoming a travel agent. Yeah. And the big change came in 2008 when the markets crash, the wealthy people started having to change their ideas about yachts and travel and things like that. But they still wanted to travel and that's where the luxury cruise market came in because you could travel for $10,000 instead of $200,000 I think you bring up a good point right here is that regardless of what the economy is doing, they still want to travel. Absolutely. Because that's the most important thing they have is time. They need their time, no matter how bad businesses, the stock market, whatever, they have to get away, they need to refresh, they need to be taken care of as opposed to them taking care of everything. Right?

Eric Goldring (05:39):

So it was built in. So now what happened? Sort of around the same time, I was like, if I continue as this lawyer, I'm going to die. I'm 40 pounds heavier than I am now. I'm stressed out. I got psoriatic arthritis popping up, all kinds of health things and I just needed to change. So I took the leap and said, I can make this app. And you know, when you start your, you know, the cash flow wasn't quite what you'd think it's going to be, but you kind of make it new scratch and glow and then eventually it builds up. Right. And you know, then I was able to say, you know, this is really a lifestyle difference. So I got through my divorce, both kids are in college and I moved out to what used to be my vacation home, which is now my home and Lake Tahoe in Truckee, California.

Eric Goldring (06:34):

So, you know, now I have a situation where I tell people when I'm away, well, when I'm done with this journey, I go home to your vacation. And it's really true. So you know, when you become efficient with your time and you know your product and you don't let things back up on you, you wind up with a lot of free time. So you're able to go hiking or skiing or just taking a walk by the river and it makes a big difference as to how you approach your clients. So one of the things, and you mentioned this earlier about how you were banned from cruise critic, you are on the is your honest and candid and sometimes really scathing reviews and commentary and rebukes of people. How has that helped your business? Well, the most important thing is to be genuine and honest.

Eric Goldring (07:21):

As a lawyer I would tell people you're paying me to win, not to win mr congeniality. And you know, it's a little different in the travel business or you know, other non combative businesses. But you know, people don't want to hear that everything's wonderful when it's not. And if something isn't right, you'll want it to be improved. So, you know, if I go on a cruise ship, every ship I go on, I order a hamburger and a hotdog. Because if they can do the simple things that can do the more complex that tells you what the training is, it tells you what the ingredients are. It tells you what the delivery is, you know, how's it all work? When I get a hamburger that's overcooked with two bottom buns and there's a squeeze bottle of ketchup and manager's been out in the sun for, I don't know how long that tells me something.

Eric Goldring (08:20):

When I order two hotdogs, I get two hotdogs on one bun that tells himself when it's delivered perfectly. And I got crisp hot French fries as opposed to ice cold ones. It tells me something. So, you know, it's important to be real about it. And if somebody says, you know, they're the most luxurious cruise line in the world, I didn't set that standard. They did. Right. And don't you want to know if they're delivering it or not? And related to that, I find that the most luxurious anything to be a red flag because every client, every person, every guest has a different definition of luxury. I agree. Yeah. And so you got to set your bar as a travel professional the same way you expect the cruise line or tour operators set a bar that's achievable. There's fluff and marketing and then there's the reality, right?

Eric Goldring (09:25):

So when I give a very positive or a marginal or scathing review, my clients know they may not agree with it, but they know I'm being honest and I'm giving the backup for it. I don't say that was the worst cruise I ever took. Those were the best eggs ever had I explained why. Yeah. That's why I love reading your blog because it gives you always backup to whether it's a positive, negative. And you know, having been with one of the suppliers that was on the receiving end of one of those reviews, I can tell you it made a big difference. It was addressed immediately because I believe that was the hot dog, if I remember correctly. That was, that was fixed quickly because it is, it's the simple things, a little things when it comes to delivering the service. And I guess the lesson out of this is make sure that one, everyone knows you, you understand what your client's definition of luxury is.

Eric Goldring (10:27):

It could be carnival, you know, it could be Seabourn, it could be, it depends on, you know, who you're talking to, but making sure, and I think everyone should do what you do is go and see if they do the little things right when you are on board and experience it as a guest so you'll know exactly how your clients are going to be able to experience onboard. Right. And that's one thing, by the way, that it's sort of a sore point with me. I do not like FAMs fans are a great way to go see hardware, but it's not a great way to see product. Yeah. Because they're catering to you different. The mindset is, what am I getting for my free? You're a highly discounted trip as opposed to being able to sit back and observe guests and see how they're interacting and see how things interact with you.

Eric Goldring (11:14):

So when you're the travel, a general professional that's being catered to, you're going to get the best seating, you're going to get the best waiters, you're gonna get the best bartenders, they're going to make sure you're happy. But I've been on cruises where they're two really good bar waiters and they're running all over the place, making everything happen because the other six aren't that good. Yeah, well I'm glad I'm getting great service, but what about everybody else? So those things are really important to put yourself in a position where you can observe things. And you know, I travel a lot, but I travel a lot because it, you know, besides the obvious benefits of that, it makes me an authority and a lets me tell the clients specifically from my personal experience or watch out for this. And then you can figure out when you talk to your launch what matters to them because they may not care about the bath amenities not being that great. Right. I always bring my own so it doesn't matter other people, that's a big thing. How dare they do that. So you never know what someone's trigger point is.

Dan Chappelle (12:24):

Yeah. So that's a great segue into you know, obviously you have a niche in the industry. Do you have a specialty? You're considered an expert in authority. What is your niche and how did you come into that and make it your own?

Eric Goldring (12:38):

Well, my niece really is what is your luxury? It's not the most expensive. It's not the fanciest, it's what makes people feel warm and fuzzy. You know, I have the ability with the Marine biology background to be able to sell high end expedition trips. Yeah. I also with the Outback room able to sell high end cruises and, and land tours. But I look at it and go, I would rather spend my time on one person and earn a $4,000 commission. Cause these are people that tend to have experience. And know what they want. You're more managing their situation then for the same gross revenue have to deal with 20 people that really don't know what they want. They're going to be much more high demand because they don't know what they want. They have perceptions and you've got to work through each one's perceptions to get them to a reality. So I've developed with my background, the ability to kind of stay at that higher level, which gives me more time to really personally serve each client, to give them their luxury, whatever that may be.

Dan Chappelle (13:58):

And I'm sure you've probably experienced this as well, but I certainly have that a, the luxury client is so much easier to work with typically because they do have realistic expectations and they've traveled and they, they know what they're paying for. They expect to have a Seabourn cruise at a certain price versus, you know, it's not a $5,000 trip, it's a $50,000 trip and they get that. So that's one thing I always found that was great about working with them. So along that lines, we get paid to sell. So let's talk about, you know, what do you do to attract customers? And obviously you have your blog, you have other things that are going on, but what is it that you do to maintain and get your business to where it is today?

Eric Goldring (14:41):

Well, it's sort of a multipronged attack and probably ensemble travel group is a great way to kind of start that cause that that's my base. And with ensemble, you pay your fees and you get a website and you can really customize that much, very customized. You get email marketing if you want. You get snail mail marketing. So you've got all those layers and then you have with the various tour and cruise operators, various amenities, whether it's a higher commission rate or you'll get onboard credits or short excursions that you can offer as added amenities to your clients. So you have that as a base and it takes me and I'm just one person. And as you mentioned, I'm one of the top travel agencies pursued, born in the number one selling agent. It makes me much bigger and gives me a much bigger platform to start with.

Eric Goldring (15:37):

So you've got that sort of credibility and multi-pronged marketing. They're added to that. I have my blog now people, and I see this all the time, people will use canned articles. You know, you buy them and put them up. Google knows that they ignore them. People write things that aren't relevant. They don't know how to use key words. You know when you're writing you're going to say Seabourn 10 times or Silversea you know, 14 times and you're going to mention where you are and you're going to use photos that work with everything. And then when people start searching, they find you and then when they find you in the, you see that you have a number of credible articles that go, I want to use that guy. So you have that. Then you add to that now and it's very simple to do. If I write an article, I'll post it on Facebook, both at the gold travel Facebook page, but also my personal page because you never know who's going to find whatever. Cause you know, you have a friend Joe who's got a friend, Mary, that somehow winds up with your article, right? So you have that. You also post to LinkedIn and Twitter. You know, I haven't done as much with Instagram as I'm told I'm supposed to. I don't know. I know that feeling.

Eric Goldring (16:55):

But now you're kind of everywhere, but you've never left your basic footprint. You know, with technology today you have all those things. The other thing I do that's very simple as this, because I have clients all over the world. I have a number in Brisbane, Australia, and I have a number of London, England, as well as my toll free number and my regular number. It costs me $50 a year to have a number in Brisbane, the number and in the UK, it doesn't, it Skype, it doesn't cost much of anything, but it gives you a footprint and another little prong to have out there for people. So they feel comfortable doing business with you. You know? And then the other thing is, because originally I'm from New Jersey, I kind of market myself as the guy you need something. I'm the guy. Yeah, you didn't want somebody around, don't worry, I got a guy.

Eric Goldring (17:45):

And so you know over time you develop enough and if you don't have the connections, you don't know how to find the connections. So I have all of that. And then there's one other level that I do because you want to establish your expertise out in the marketplace, whatever it is. You may be great with history or art or culinary or wine or kayaking or whatever it is. Once a year I do what I call a culinary and cultural cruise and don't call it food and wine. It's culinary and cultural. And I do some pretty big over the top events on that one cruise, but don't charge my clients extra port. But I do it. And what it does is it's a tremendous marketing Zen both for me and whatever cruise line I'm doing it with to say here's extraordinary and if you want extraordinary, I can do that. So that's basically what I do.

Dan Chappelle (18:45):

What I like about that is it, it really sets you apart from the competition. It's not something that can be price shopped because if they go to somewhere else and find that for the same price you're selling for, but yet you've got all of this, well why would I not go with you? But what I want to talk about here for a second, cause you kind of say you're the guy and if you don't, if you're, you don't know the guy, you know the guy that knows the guy. So let's talk about your referral business. So obviously you've been in business for awhile and you've built up a fairly loyal clientele. How much of your business would you say is referral business?

Eric Goldring (19:15):

I would say probably about 20 to 25% of referrals. And repeat is probably 60%

Dan Chappelle (19:24):

Yeah. So that's, that's huge. Which one tells you that you, you take care of the clients, you've got very loyal following there. They're providing the referrals for that. So it leaves you with about what 10 15% of your business is actually coming from other activities that you're doing. So we've talked about your successes and we've talked to, you know, you've had a pretty full career. You built a lifestyle business, which is I think what we all strive to do here. But what everybody usually sees is the success they see where you are today, what kind of setbacks, what kind of failures have you had along the way that's kind of helped shape what you, who you are and how you built your business to where it is today.

Eric Goldring (20:06):

Not understanding quite as much what quality means. And I learned this in the yacht world. Everybody wants stuff. So if somebody charters your yacht for $200,000 for a week, everybody wants a crude t-shirt. Yeah, they want to belong. They want, they want to be part of the team, right? I mean who would think that want a tee shirt but they want a tee shirt. So I started out like I would always try to give clients something. So I'd give them like fridge magnets and things like that. And I realized that sending the wrong message, if you're give swag of some sort, go big or go home. Think about what it is that you're giving. So I don't expect most travel professionals are going to be able to give out $50 backpacks. I mean, that's just not in the business because not only is it $50 you got to get it to them. So you're investing $75 right. You know, in a backpack, you know when you're in a luxury and you can do that because you're making enough. So I've got backpacks and briefcases and string backpacks of flashlights, wine openers, hand sanitizers, all that sort of thing. And I give clients different things each time. And I make sure I don't double up. They love having the gold ring travel stuff. I've clients that actually send me pictures with my backpack.

Dan Chappelle (21:36):

Oh, you have branded it, you have your logo, yet everything is

Eric Goldring (21:40):

Branded. You know, I've got a phone number, eight, seven, seven, two go luxury. So, you know, I do, you know, those sorts of things and it pays off. So somebody, I got an email yesterday just received all my cruise documents and all the goodies. Well, when you hear the word goodies not stop, that means you've made a connection. Right. And that means they're part of my team. We're bonded just like the group t-shirt app. So you know, don't give out junk. Yeah. People think was their name on it. It's going to be good. You have to think about what is the message you're giving your client? Do they want to be part of that team? You know, with the a 50 cent, whatever.

Dan Chappelle (22:28):

I, I get this too. People take my book around the world and they take pictures of it and send it to me on some beach or some mountain or I am. It's, it's really cool to get those kind of things coming in. So I love your story. I love everything about how you've, you've built a lifestyle business. I think that's something that our listeners really need to understand is, you know, it's not just having a business to have a business, is to build a lifestyle about now over the years and, and if you want to share how long you've been in the retail end of the business, because people often will look at it and say, Hey, you know, I want to be where he is, but you know, they want to be there now versus seeing all the work that went into do it. You know, how do are you where you want to be? Do you want to scale your business up? What, what are your plans? I want to be exactly where I am.

Eric Goldring (23:11):

You know, I had a goal and I said, if I make on average X amount of commissions every day, you know, on average, yeah, sure. Then how much more do I need? Getting bigger doesn't necessarily help being better does. So, for example, if I'm going out, I always have my phone with me because I've got clients all over the world and they may have a question and I tell people that I'm with, I mean, unless it's like 11 o'clock on a Friday night, it should, I just have to answer this email. I don't things sit for the next day or the day after or it's Sunday, I'm not working. There are times when you do that, obviously you need your personal time, right? But when you can respond right away and get it off your plate, you're not only satisfying your clients, you're satisfying yourself because when you go to do that hike or you go to go out to dinner or ski or you know, take a walk or just a quiet time with your partner, you don't have that thing over your head. It really frees your mind. And the luxury market in particular, if someone sends you an email they don't want, they expect you to respond quickly.

Eric Goldring (24:28):

Especially now with all that's going on. Yeah. Yeah. Having people sitting around and waiting for a response is not a good thing. So let's go back a little bit here. So the next few questions are the ones I ask everyone that comes on the podcast. What are three things that you wish you had known before you started on this journey of being a travel professional? And obviously you're extremely successful at what you do, top agent for Seabourn, top agency for Seabourn. I know outside of Seabourn you do very well with other brands as well, but you know, what are, what are some things you wish you'd known before you jumped into this end of the business? We'll leave. We're not, the number one thing is anybody that gets in the cruise industry world stays there. So if you have an issue with somebody at Royal Caribbean, chances are they're going to show up at Holland America or princess or somewhere, or incestuous business.

Eric Goldring (25:27):

Yes. So you gotta be careful to make your points, but make them relevantly but don't burn bridges. The second thing I didn't realize that you don't always have to accept. No, that's not our policy. There are ways to get around things. Your BDMs RSMs many times can do things that when you call reservations, they say can't be done. So you need to be persistent. You need to keep your eye on not, Oh my got, I can't do that. It's how am I going to accomplish it. And the other thing is don't focus on the commission for this booking. You want to focus on the commission for the third and fourth booking. But as client, it's not a short term proposition. And when I started, I was so focused on making the deal, maybe as part of the lawyer me got to make the deal. Yeah. But that's not what this industry is. That's not what the businesses, this is more relationship. So maybe you don't do so well on this one. You'll do better on the next one. But if you treat your client well, they're not going anywhere. They're going to stay with you. Last question. Sure. What your definition

Dan Chappelle (26:44):

Of the wealthy traveling, I mean you deal with high end luxury travel. Yeah. That's your market. Is that the wealthy travel agent?

Eric Goldring (26:51):

No, it's not. Not a to me at all. It's being nice to people and nice to yourself. So I want as a travel agent to be able to walk down a little street in the night market in Myanmar and see a little lady who's making soup and make that connection with her and be able to enjoy that experience and then be able to keep that within me, but also express it to my clients and get them to do those sorts of things and get into the whole being comfortable, being uncomfortable. And you know, when you have that, then all of a sudden I'm moving a Truckee California in the middle of nowhere. I mean, it's gorgeous, but you know, it's uncomfortable when you're trying to run a business, how are you going to do that? And then you find ways to do that and you become part of a community there and then your clients because you're nice about it and whatever. Even if you can be a cervic at times, you know, they join in with that and there's where your wealth is. Do you need to make the money to do this? Of course you do. But you know, which comes first, the chicken or the egg. And I, I think that your mindset is what makes you wealthy. Money may make you rich, but I made money as a lawyer and was miserable. That was not wealth.

Dan Chappelle (28:19):

Yeah, I completely agree. And when I remember when I first saw that you were moving the truck [inaudible] okay, it's this Jersey guy moving out into the country, but it looks good on you. It's a, the office looks great and you're a, you're looking great, yourself and all that. So if folks want to follow you, if they want to follow your blog, where should they go here?

Eric Goldring (28:38):

Well, you can go to making waves, blog.com. Awesome. or you can go to my website Goldring travel.com and anybody wants to sign up for the blog. I'm happy to share. You know, I wish everybody success. There's plenty of business out there for everybody. And that's one other thing. Before zona. You have people that are in the business. They're not all your competition. There are other people in the business. These are people that really should be your friends. And you'll help them support each other.

Dan Chappelle (29:10):

Eric, I really appreciate you coming on. It's making waves, blog.com if you want to follow Eric, read his reviews on ships and destinations. It's fantastic. It's a great learning experience and I love how open you are about it. So thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you all for joining us. You can follow me on Facebook or on LinkedIn or get your ship together. The Wellesley travel agent guide to sales is available on Amazon and both paperback audible and also on the Kindle if it's there for you. And so, Eric, thanks so much for joining us today has been fantastic Avenue. It's been a wonderful interview and I think there's a, our audience is going to get a lot out of this. There's a lot to learn from here, so thank you so much. Thank you.

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About the Podcast

The Wealthy Travel Agent Podcast
Getting Your S.H.I.P Together! How to Earn More, Travel More, and Build a Successful Travel Business.
Eagles don't flock together, they soar.

So much emphasis on marketing and social media, it is easy to forget that the retail travel agency channel is, in fact, the commissioned sales force of the industry. Its sole function is to SELL travel.

It is not even a chicken or egg debate. Everything you and your company does (marketing, operations, public relations, training, etc.), should be to support the sales strategy of the business.

This is where we as an industry fail.

Unfortunately, in our lexicon “Sales” and “Marketing” have taken on the same meaning. Agencies and advisers (especially independent contractors) expect their marketing programs to sell for them.
However, the role of marketing is not to sell, but to produce prospects. If you aren’t practicing the fundamental mechanics of selling and sales management – no amount of marketing will help.

I share based on personal experience and expertise learned as a travel professional, agency owner, and luxury cruise line sales executive.

About your host

Profile picture for Dan Chappelle

Dan Chappelle

Dan is the leading authority on sales performance and management specializing in the travel and tourism industry. His best-selling book “Get Your S.H.I.P. Together – The Wealthy Travel Agent Guide to Sales” is available on Amazon and Audible.

My Story-

My parents are artists. I grew up poor. My community was a hippie commune. And my wish back then was to be a little more status quo.

But when you grow up outside of convention, it’s hard to acclimate to the conventional.

My professional titles and accolades are proof that sales skills are life skills.*

And they’re important ones. Especially to those of us who’ve been told we’re out of our league. Or discouraged from aiming as high as we want to go.

Personal freedom is a hardwired value. Tenacity, an intrinsic trait. Self-sufficiency, a way of life.

That’s why one of my first jobs was selling books door-to-door. Why I left college to teach scuba diving and do my own thing. Why I took a job on a cruise ship to travel and experience what the world had to offer. Why I studied all corners of the travel industry and opened my own luxury-focused travel company.

Local supplier reps took bets on when that business would fold, but we outlasted them. Then I sold the agency. Then I entered the corporate world...then I quickly rose to the executive ranks. First with Carlson (Travel Leaders), Expedia Cruise Ship Centers, and Windstar Cruises.

None of that would’ve happened if I’d listened to other people’s negative opinions about what was possible for me.

Or if I didn’t have relationship, sales, and prospecting skills.

Those were my survivor’s guide. Learn them and you learn to navigate your world.

Even if a door does get slammed in your face.

I share these skills because they’re fundamental. They’re powerful. And they’re doable.

And because the travel business isn’t an order taking business anymore.

Which is wonderful for those of us who’ve never liked taking orders to begin with...

In addition to creating a successful travel business from scratch, Dan has held the following executive-level roles:

Vice President of World-Wide Sales at Windstar Cruises
Vice President of U.S. Operations at Expedia CruiseShipCenters
Director of Franchise Relations at Cruise Holidays (Travel Leaders)
Dan and his wife are empty nesters and live in Bellevue Washington with their three dogs and two cats. A lover of the outdoors, he is an avid SCUBA diver, has climbed the Mt. Rainier, as well as hiked sections of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).