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After Avoya Travel announced its new Avoya Conversations messaging tool for independent partners to natively chat with their clients, the host agency focused its 2020 annual conference on cruise content. As the segment prepares to rebound next year, several cruise line executives discussed what’s to come.
Common Optimism“What a great industry the cruise industry is,” said Chris Prelog, president of Windstar Cruises, who is awaiting this year’s debut of the newly elongated and enhanced Star Breeze.
The statement is one shared by all cruise players at this time during the pandemic as lines optimistically work with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in getting the green light to resume service from the U.S.
At the end of the day, people are just really excited about getting away.
“I’m more encouraged now,” said John Chernesky, Princess Cruises’ senior vice president of North America sales and trade marketing. “There is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Some Headaches StillWorking with the CDC toward cruising’s restart is not without its share of frustrations, however. Shawn Tubman, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ vice president, strategic partnerships and national accounts, explained the current “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order” is not very specific.
“We need clarity from the CDC,” he said.
Thankfully, Regent is part of parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., which teamed up with Royal Caribbean Group to develop the Healthy Sail Panel, consisting of a robust list of assured safety measures and a transparent approach to setting sail again.
Ordinarily a corporate competitor to Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line does not compete when it comes to safety.
“We’re all working together,” said Adolfo Perez, senior vice president of global sales and trade marketing for Carnival, who explained that collaboration is resulting in “consistency across the industry.”
Health and SafetyOne core area where there is no confusion is the paramount importance of maintaining guest and crew safety. Perez said that for the time being, that will include mask requirements in public spaces, reduced capacities and COVID-19 testing. Carnival is specifically enhancing its Fun Hub mobile app to facilitate virtual queuing and remote ordering, both of which will come in handy even post-pandemic.
Similarly, Princess Cruises will tout its expanded MedallionClass experience on all ships in the fleet as they come back online in 2021, says Chernesky. Adding to the app- and wearable-based conveniences will be touchless embarkation, staggered arrivals, health questionnaires, contactless payments, real-time status of venue capacity and new passenger safety drill protocols.
Royal Caribbean International is also implementing “Muster 2.0” to eliminate the need to gather en masse for a lifeboat drill, instead briefing guests individually via app and a quick verification at their station.
Guests are “in for the safest, healthiest vacation possible that still offers the Royal Caribbean experience,” said Vicki Freed, the line’s senior vice president of sales, trade support and service.
Viking is also taking testing very seriously. Michele Saegesser, vice president of sales and national accounts, explained that the brand is building PCR labs onboard each ocean ship, and that the Viking Star’s facility is already complete. What’s more, the line intends to test guests on a daily basis for added assurance.
Value and InclusionsAnother common refrain at the conference was emphasizing agent value and vacation value.
“Know the value of your art,” said Royal Caribbean’s Freed, referring to the great benefits partners bestow upon their customers.
Just as important to clients are the inclusions they will receive once on their trips, so executives showcased their latest.
Royal Caribbean’s corporate cousin Celebrity Cruises just upped the ante by announcing its new "Always Included” amenities, which elevate the brand’s premium status among traditional value categories.
“All those things are really blurring now,” said Dondra Ritzenhaler, Celebrity’s senior vice president of sales, describing the brand now as “new luxury.”
Oceania Cruises’ senior vice president of sales, Nikki Upshaw, reflected on the same value propositions.
“More avid travelers are coming to Oceania maybe from other brands,” she said, in hopes of experiencing the line’s smaller ships, unique itineraries, signature gourmet cuisine and overall inclusivity.
Future GrowthUpshaw highlighted the goal of “building our business together,” with agents and lines hand in hand. She also shared that new-to-Oceania bookings are currently skyrocketing.
Similarly crucial to the future are growing fleets. Oceania has the new Allura class of ships debuting in 2023, for instance, while Paul Gauguin Cruises has two new ships slated for 2023 as well.
Carnival is waiting to debut its fresh Mardi Gras later this year, and travelers are still anticipating Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Apex; Princess Cruises’ Enchanted Princess and Discovery Princess; Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Splendor; Royal Caribbean International’s Odyssey of the Seas; Silversea Cruises’ Silver Moon and Silver Origin; Viking’s Viking Venus; and MSC Cruises’ MSC Seashore and MSC Virtuosa.
“We’re going to keep growing; we’re going to keep supporting you,” said Michelle Lardizabal, MSC’s senior vice president and commercial sales officer.
Recommendations for Travel AdvisorsUltimately, the current advice for travel advisors is to focus on clients who are ready to book now and sail soon. Royal Caribbean’s Freed said it’s easier to get loyalists than new cruisers at this point, and Carnival’s Perez said he would prioritize those with future cruise credits as they are the lowest hanging fruit.
Go after the “Krispy Kreme” clients — those who are “hot and ready now,” said Katina Athanasiou, Norwegian Cruise Line’s chief sales officer. Athanasiou is optimistic that new-to-cruise travelers will also come back, but likely after ships are sailing.
When exactly that will be is the lingering question, but Mark Conroy, managing director of the Americas for Silversea Cruises, believes there is “fairly good news on the horizon” and that ships may be operating again in March or April.
“At the end of the day, people are just really excited about getting away,” Perez said.