Sailing on a Carnival ship with executives from Celebrity, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Viking, Disney and AmaWaterways is a unique experience. And if part of the joy of cruising lies in building new relationships with new people, then the Cruises Inc., CruiseOne and Dream Vacations annual conference on the Carnival Vista surely succeeded.
Over and over in the course of the past four days, the cruise industry and the travel agents that sell its product agreed that it’s not about competing with each other; the competition, instead, is land vacations and travelers who just never consider a cruise at all. And the talk was largely about how to work together to win them over.
"We see our competition as land-based vacations," said Carnival president and CEO Arnold Donald. "Our challenge is to get the new-to-cruise market to consider cruising and your role is critically important." Carnival marketing will focus on "subtly inserting cruising into what they see and read" through three new programs airing on Saturday mornings: The Voyager with Josh Garcia, Vacation Creation and Ocean Treks.
Happy to be hosting the event on its first full Caribbean sailing, Carnival’s Christine Duffy—a former travel agent—noted this is the first new Carnival ship since the Breeze in 2012, and “it’s been so exciting” to welcome the Vista. The design “really was about connecting guests to the seas,” with outdoor spaces like the Havana area, lots of al fresco dining and the over-the-water Skyride. Indoors, Carnival has brought back live musicians for the shows and expanded the living space for the crew.
The real opportunity, she said, “is to grow the cruise pie, to get more people to see the value and benefit of a great cruise.” To that end Carnival has repositioned a ship in Tampa and brought more capacity to Long Beach CA. Getting ready to head into Wave Season, it is “working really hard to get a private destination in Grand Bahama.”
Rather than competing with other lines, Duffy said she believes “the positive energy we all exude about cruising is contagious, and when people have a great experience and we all work hard, results will follow. So work hard and get the job done; we are selling dreams, and the more you believe in what you are doing, the more you will be successful.”
CruiseOne SVP Debbie Fiorino noted that Carnival has 27 people sailing with the group, and called on a variety of cruise executives from all the lines to speak about their efforts to bring in first-time cruisers. Charles Dunwoody, senior director of national accounts for Holland America Line, noted HAL opened Denali Square, a luxury resort right at the foot of the Alaska national park, in May 2016—and will have a “new announcement” that he declined to detail later this month. For travel agents, GoHal.com offers an enhanced HAL Academy with destination training on Alaska, the Panama Canal and Europe.
Darren Dolan, Viking Cruise Lines’ director of business development, noted the cruise lines “all keep on making each other better” and “create the buzz that makes the phones ring.” Optional tours booked on the travel agent website now are commissionable, he said.
Just a week back into the job after a two-year sabbatical, Norwegian sales SVP Camille Olivere pointed to a $500 million investment in destinations, hardware and food enhancements, including the new Harvest Caye—which, she emphasized, is not a private island but a destination excursion, at which guests should be forewarned to expect to pay for food and drinks.
A rare Disney partnership, with AmaWaterways, will double its itineraries and add trips on the Rhine on the AmaChristina, said Disney Destinations’ Lily Mendoza, inviting travel agents to echo the theme of Disney’s new national advertising campaign, “Endless Magic.”
MSC Cruises USA EVP of sales, PR & guests services (how’s that for a title that spans a few roles?) Ken Muskat noted the “tremendous growth” of the European line in the North American market; in the past week alone MSC “floated out Seaside and started the one-year countdown to its completion, cut Bellissimma and did a groundbreaking for a new terminal in Florida,” and is preparing for the launch of the Meraviglia in June. With four ships under construction, MSC will boost its capacity from 1.5 million to 5 million—and is counting on travel professionals to help get the word out to new cruisers. Its private island, Ocean Cay, will come online in 2018, with 95 acres. About 60 miles from Miami, on a coral reef close to Bimini, “it’s great for weddings and celebrations as the sun sets.” To help sell, travel agents starting January 1 will get dedicated BDMs and be able to make reservations under their own phone numbers rather than that of their consortia.
Speaking for Princess, which last week was fined for illegal dumping VP of North American sales John Chernenko offered a heartfelt apology, noting that “those acts of a few individuals certainly do not represent our core culture, but we have taken responsibility for their actions and we're doing a lot to make it better.”
Noting “our opportunity as a group is to change the conversation from price to value,” he cited Princess’s partnership with Animal Planet, which now lets guests meet mountain climbers in Denali and pet puppies being trained for the Iditarod, plus four new shows, luxury beds rolling out across the fleet and new club-class mini suites with their own dedicated dining area.
"We hope the new-to-cruise segment will get a new feeling for what it's like to travel by ship, the magical feeling of being at sea that brings us back time and again. This is our time, our golden age, and it's your part to take to clients who have never cruised," Donald said.