Travel agents re­main key in pro­mot­ing cruises

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - MONEY - By Ar­lene Satchell Staff writer

The cruise in­dus­try is rid­ing high today with record ad­vance book­ings froma year ago, strong con­sumer in­ter­est and a slew of new ships and on­board and tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tions about to de­ploy.

Cruise ex­ec­u­tives are op­ti­mistic the trend will con­tinue bar­ring any un­fore­seen geopo­lit­i­cal in­ci­dent that may curb con­sumers’ de­sire or abil­ity to travel.

That over­rid­ing sen­ti­ment res­onated Thurs­day among in­dus­try lead­ers and travel agents who gath­ered at the Cruise360 travel agent con­fer­ence in Fort Laud­erdale or­ga­nized by the trade group Cruise Lines In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion, CLIA.

“Howluck­ywe are to be liv­ing in the golden era of cruis­ing and th­ese are the great­est days per­haps the in­dus­try has ever seen,” Arnold Don­ald, pres­i­dent and CEO of Do­ral­based cruise gi­ant Car­ni­val Corp.& PLC said in a key­note ad­dress.

“What you can do on our ships and where the ships can take you have ad­vanced tremen­dously since theMardiGras back in 1972,” Don­ald said.

TheMardiGraswas the first ship that launched op­er­a­tions for its name­sake Car­ni­val Cruise Line, which be­came the cat­a­lyst over the en­su­ing 45 years for a com­pany that grewinto the world’s largest leisure travel busi­ness with10 cruise brands, he said.

The cruise in­dus­try has grown sig­nif­i­cantly in the last decade by about1 mil­lion more cruise pas­sen­gers an­nu­ally, Don­ald noted. In 2017, some 25.3 mil­lion peo­ple are ex­pected to take a cruise glob­ally, ac­cord­ing to CLIA es­ti­mates.

In­dus­try growth is likely to hinge on cruise op­er­a­tors’ abil­ity to not only at­tract more first-time cruis­ers, but to con­tin­u­ally cre­ate and of­fer fresh, in­no­va­tive of­fer­ings and new des­ti­na­tions to gen­er­ate re­peat busi­ness.

That’s one area where travel agents re­main a crit­i­cal part­ner for the cruise in­dus­try, in ad­di­tion to be­ing a top source of cruise book­ings even in the In­ter­net and dig­i­tal age.

Other key roles in­clude help­ing cruise lines to com­mu­ni­cate the value of cruis­ing as a va­ca­tion op­tion and help con­vey the char­ac­ter of each brand to prospec­tive guests and “match the brand with the guest needs, with their dreams at that mo­ment,” Don­ald said.

“You are ab­so­lutely the key to making the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the cruise ex­pe­ri­ence and the guest­work,” he noted. “You need to help discover what your clients’ [va­ca­tion] dreams are. We think it has to start be­fore the guest ever steps on board our ships.”

Travel agents are also on the front lines when it comes to help­ing to dis­pel old­myths and stereo­types of cruis­ing, such as ‘it’s bor­ing with not much to do,’ Don­ald said.

In a panel dis­cus­sion, top ex­ec­u­tives from Car­ni­val, MSC Cruises, Aza­mara Club Cruises andNor­we­gian spoke about hownew tech­nol­ogy avail­able today can pro­vide ben­e­fits to travel agents to help growtheir busi­nesses.

New­tools in­clude in­ter­nal pro­grams of­fered by the cruise op­er­a­tors, aswell as free so­cial me­dia plat­forms such as Face­book, Twit­ter and In­sta­gram.

Other­swarned that as pow­er­ful a mar­ket­ing tool that so­cial me­dia can be, mes­sag­ing needs to be more per­son­al­ized.

Ear­lier Thurs­day, lux­ury lifestyle and hospi­tal­ity brand Crys­tal un­veiled details of a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar “reimag­in­ing” of its ex­ist­ing ocean­go­ing cruise ships Crys­tal Sym­phony and Crys­tal Seren­ity to me­dia at­tend­ing Cruise360.

The ships will en­ter dry­dock late this year and in 2018 re­spec­tively for up­grades to state­rooms, pub­lic spa­ces and din­ing venues.

asatchell@sun-sen­tinel.com

COUR­TESY

Crys­tal Sym­phony, here in Rio de Janeiro, will be go­ing into dry­dock later this year for up­grades.

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