Holland America Line president Orlando Ashford today announced new partnerships and brand initiatives for the cruise line. But for travel agents, the question, as always, is whether it stepped over the line from helping clients to bypassing agents.
Beginning in 2016, Holland America will partner with AFAR Travel Magazine to provide guests with third-party content that allows them to “dream, plan, choose, and prepare for the next perfect vacation,” Ashford told the crowd at a press conference at New York’s Explorers Club. It will include detailed information on Holland America’s 400 ports, along with recommendations for shore excursions.
The Holland America website also will have a new planning software platform called UTrip, whose personalization tool lets travelers “imagine themselves on the ground,” and offers recommendations on cruise itineraries and local highlights.
Providing destination-based content and third-party recommendations is a step over the line into the traditional role of a travel agent, some might say. But vice president of North America sales Eva Jenner insisted, “I don’t see this as competitive. I think it’s an opportunity to enhance the relationship and partnership and credibility for the trade and for us.”
“All that great content from AFAR and UTrip can be an incredible planning tool for agents and clients, too,” Ashford said.
Ashford also promised that the cruise line’s dedication to the trade and to agents will only continue to grow in the future. “We’re doing our part,” he said. “Some things that we are still planning moving forward [are coming]. This is just the beginning.”
Agents weren’t quite so sure.
“I’ve been in the business a long time and it sounds like that’s one of the first steps to sort of knock out the agent,” said Anne-Marie Riley, owner of Travel Trends, a TRAVELSAVERS agency in Hauppauge, NY. Being an expert in travel is what makes an agent so valuable, she said, and putting something that will take away from that expertise online limits that role.
“Why else would you go to a travel agent except to get expertise information?” she said. “The reason we can [be helpful] is that we know it. We’ve been there, we’ve done it.”
But Riley also said that the real test will come when the material hits the website.
"It’ll be interesting to see what really happens," she said.
Holland America did also announce that it will support its travel partners with a tool kit that allows agents to create a Holland America email address, access marketing materials, and more easily make their bookings. “We’re absolutely committed to travel agents because a significant portion of our business gets executed by travel agents,” Jenner said.
Meanwhile, Ashford announced that Holland America’s new ship, the MS Koningsdam, will debut in April 2016 and its sister ship will debut in the fall of 2018. The two ships also will introduce new music venues, including BB King’s Blues Club and Lincoln Center Stage, a chamber music venue created in partnership with New York’s Lincoln Center.
The cruise company is committing $300 million to enhance its existing fleet over the next few years, retrofitting the updates that will debut on the Koningsdam in April to the rest of its existing fleet. Ashford said $40 million will be specifically used for onboard suite enhancements, including USB ports and other modern touches.
And finally, Ashford said, Holland America will be replacing the 10-year-old tagline, “A Signature of Excellence,” with a new one, “Savor the Journey,” in January, and updating its logo as well.
Pic: Jim G