Carnival Cruise Lines’ VP of sales and trade marketing Adolfo Perez. Photo: Facebook
Cuba is opening, the shipyards are full, and on the horizon is the largest number of empty berths ever to hit the high seas. And if the talk aboard the Carnival Vista at last week’s Cruises Inc./CruiseOne/Dream Vacations annual meeting is any indication, the eyes of every player in the cruise industry are upon the hottest market of them all: the new-to-cruise customer.
From the first day of the conference to the last, the buzz from the ocean lines, the cruise lines, and the travel agents who sell them was focused on ways to attract and retain the thousands of new customers they will be able to accommodate in 2017 and 2018.
Onboard the ship for the whole eight-day conference, Carnival Cruise Lines’ VP of sales and trade marketing Adolfo Perez told TMR that selling a new-to-cruise customer is not really so different from selling any customer.
Earlier in his career Perez spent a decade running Carnival’s call centers, and in that time listened to thousands upon thousands of taped conversations of travel professionals calling in to book their customers. “Listening to those recordings I heard, ‘I’m looking for the cheapest price. ‘I’m looking for the cheapest price,’ time after time after time—until finally I said, ‘Wait a minute. Don’t you get paid on commission? Why would you assume the Carnival customer must want the cheapest trip? If you’re doing your job right, you’re asking what they like and what would make for the best experience for their vacation. And that’s what you should be booking.”
So “don’t shop with your own wallet,” Perez says. “Find out all you can about your customers and put them in the right place; don’t limit them to an inside cabin when they’d really be happier with a balcony.”
Carnival is there, though, to help agents sell that vital new customer base. “From the trade standpoint, we are just really pushing the message that it’s important for travel agents to focus on driving the new-to-cruise,” he said. “When you get a new customer like that, someone who is not yet loyal to a travel agent or to cruising, it’s really important for you to act as their guide.”
That’s the point of Carnival’s Great Vacation Guarantee, which offers a full refund and a free ticket home to any customer who requests it within the first 24 hours, Perez noted. And the travel agent gets to keep the full commission.
While only two or three customers have ever taken advantage of the offer—and those for emergencies at home rather than actual complaints about the cruise, Perez said—it’s a way to calm nervous new customers and encourage them to give cruising a try. “There is a group that is averse to cruising ever. But many more are just reluctant—and this program gives them a reason to give cruising a try. It’s an under-utilized and under-marketed tool for our travel-agency partners.”
Also helpful in selling Carnival to new-to-cruise is the fact that it has so many homeports and so many short cruises, offering a way to try a cruise at a reasonable investment of time and money.
In the end, though, Perez said, it’s the happy customer, not the one who got the cheapest price, who is most likely to be returning—to you and to Carnival and to cruising in general.
For more on this theme, see Cruise Lines Partner On A Common Goal.