“Money can buy ships, but only time can buy experience,” says Costa vice president of sales and marketing Scott Knutson.
And Costa Cruises’ 60 years of experience in the business have been all about celebrating the history and culture of Italy. Through partnerships with classic Italian brands including Illycaffè, Barilla Pasta, Nutella and others, Costa promises an experience that feels like you’ve been shopping in Italian supermarkets. And the Mozzarella Bar lets guests see, and then taste, fresh mozzarella being made onboard by experts.
There’s also a new agreement with Italian chef Bruno Barbieri to bring new menus onboard. Barbieri, who got his start as a third chef on cruise ships, will prepare a special dinner on each cruise that bears his name.
“Have a little prosciutto, mozzarella, a glass of wine, and you can have that little experience that you might have onshore,” Knutson said.
Still, though, Costa’s goal is to expand its Italian roots and be a truly international company. While its primary market is the Mediterranean, its itineraries include the Caribbean and Northern Europe. It has a 52% market share in Italy, but far less in North American, despite having about the same capacity as Princess Cruises.
About 90% of Costa bookings come from travel agents, Knutson said, and to succeed with U.S. customers, Costa “needs travel agents to tell our story.” In addition to a “generous commission,” Costa is offering new educational resources through its new travel agent portal, Costa Extra, that offers marketing and branding materials and tips.
The point, Knutson said, is to qualify clients who prefer a cruise that brings the onshore experience on board. “If you’re going to Europe why would you want to go to an amusement park when you can go to a floating Italian villa?”
In a couple of months, Costa will launch a second part of that portal, where agents will be able to track bookings and make payments, seeing in real time if promotions are working.