Travel agents remain key in promoting cruises
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.
Crystal Symphony, here in Rio de Janeiro, will be going into drydock later this year for upgrades.