Camille Olivere has learned a lot since she left Norwegian Cruise Line two years ago. Working at Club Med and World Travel Holdings has broadened her understanding of the travel industry—and of better ways for travel agents to sell cruises.
“It’s like being at the dinner table again after studying abroad,” she told TMR. “It was really interesting to understand [at ClubMed] that the all-inclusive market is really similar to the cruise market in a lot of ways. And then working at one of the largest distributors of cruise [World Travel Holdings, parent of CruiseOne] gave me a better understanding of the travel agent side of things. I have a real appreciation of how agents have to keep track of so many itineraries and promotions, and the importance of having good tools and good communications, of keeping things as simple as possible.”
Olivere: the agents we are speaking to are telling us that demand is strong for WAVE season.
To her new role as Norwegian’s senior VP of sales Olivere brings a greater appreciation for the flexibility that cruise lines have over resorts “to move ships around based on demand and the environment.” The ability to get out of harm’s way when bad weather approaches “is a really meaningful benefit for our guests and for Norwegian’s financial strength, as is being able to evolve where the consumer evolves, like Cuba,” she noted. “It’s a lot easier to work toward building accommodations for ships than to build resorts.”
Now she hopes to use that new understanding to help travel agents reach a key market: the new-to-cruise customers who have never even given a cruise vacation a try.
Norwegian is “fundamentally set up for new-to-cruise,” with “well-known names like Margaritaville that help people wrap their head around the experience,” and the kind of freestyle dining customers are accustomed to in resorts, she said.
An affinity for groups
As a way to attract new cruisers, Norwegian has rolled out a new affinity-group program for travel agents. It offers perks and amenities for leisure groups like sports teams and scout troops, to encourage first-time customers to try a cruise with their neighbors and friends.
Like the early bookers who get the best prices on airlines and hotels, affinity groups tend to book far in advance. That gives Norwegian a base that covers its costs early on, so it can raise prices on later bookings. “That’s exciting for us,” Olivere said, “and so we want to support agents selling to groups.”
Affinity groups are a great business for travel agents, too, Olivere pointed out. Once two or three members are sold, they sell their friends for you. And “if you put together an affinity group and wrap some special amenities around it, it’s a unique offering that cannot be shopped; it’s no longer a competitive situation. So it’s a win for the guest and for the agent and for us.”
New from Norwegian for 2017
Olivere said the first thing on her plate when she returned in November was the 2017 marketing plan. “For the most part I’ve really been focused on making sure we are off to a great start in WAVE in terms of having all our promotions in order, and trying to get out to visit with many of our travel partners,” she said.
Next came the calendar of events, “making sure we have the right presence so we can hear from our travel partners and communicate with them” when there are so many travel-industry events, and so many of them overlap. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle to figure out who’s going to go where and how.”
Perhaps the most exciting thing in 2017, in Olivere’s opinion, is Cuba. “It really is a big deal because while Cuba may be just one more island in the Caribbean, culturally it’s still living decades behind us, and so culturally it’s extremely exciting. And for the Cuban people, it’s really exciting to reconnect with our market.”
For now, Norwegian is the only cruise line that overnights in Cuba, giving passengers two full days and an evening to explore. And how’s it doing? “Look at our pricing and that will tell you the story,” she said. “It’s a few hundred dollars different, and it’s doing very well.”
Also new for 2017 are a number of creative and different Europe itineraries , including Norwegian Epic in the Western Mediterranean, the fjords and the North Cape; Norwegian Getaway in the Baltic; Norwegian Star in the Greek isles and the Adriatic; and Norwegian Spirit in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Canary Islands and Morocco.
“So there are a lot of really interesting destinations in Europe and really low air fares, and it’s exciting to see the demand for Europe coming back after a challenging year last year,” Olivere said. “It’s great to see the resilience of consumers.”
And of course the new Harvest Cay adds excitement to the Caribbean as well. “The western Caribbean has limited port options and I think what we’ve done with Harvest Cay is really exciting, and the feedback from guests is really positive. There’s no need to tender and there’s lots to do and people just love it.”
And how is 2017 looking? “It’s only a couple of weeks into it, so it’s too early to really call it. But I can tell you this: the agents we are speaking to are telling us that demand is strong for WAVE season across the board and everybody is feeling cautiously optimistic. If we don’t have any events that are out of our control, acts of God or acts of terrorism, it really feels like everyone is ready to go. I feel like for 2017 we have a robust industry and a robust consumer environment.”
Also good news for agents is the fact that Norwegian will be doing more consumer marketing this year, so more customers will be coming with an awareness of Norwegian Cruise Line than in years past. And of course it offers tools to help travel agents segment their customers and sell the product that best matches their individual needs, from the lowest budgets to The Haven suites for multigenerational families and young affluent travelers.