Staying on ShoreSeptember 14, 2009 By: Susan Young Travel Agent
Cruise ships line the docks of Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades
Competition is permeating to deeper levels within the cruise tourism industry. In the past, many ports took a “ho-hum” view of travel agents. After all, their prime business was cargo. Today, however, some ports and destination Convention & Visitors Bureaus (CVBs) are becoming more proactive in cultivating trade relationships with cruise-selling agents.
Florida’s Port Canaveral, for example, regularly appears at trade shows to meet trade media and travel agents. Other ports have also developed consumer/trade programs to help build clientele. Most notably, in October, the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB will launch its We Love Cruisers program to incentivize travel agents to combine cruise bookings with a land-based stay.
Do the Math
It’s all about economics. More cruise ships based at a particular port translate into more jobs and more tourism-related business locally. During 2008, for example, the combined direct spending by passengers, crew and cruise lines within the U.S. totaled $19.07 billion, according to CLIA’s 2008 economic impact survey. In addition, cruising in
2008 generated 357,710 U.S. jobs with $16.18 billion paid out in wages.
But all cruise lines have the ability to shift ships to create the best itineraries to attract cruisers to their product. And with a plethora of new ships launching, competition among ports and destinations for cruise dollars is intensifying. Suddenly, hoteliers are viewing cruise lines not as “the hated competition,” but rather as a potential new source for new land travelers.
Partnership is crucial, because “we [all] need the business,” stresses Nicki E. Grossman, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB. She says it’s no longer a case of cruisers flying to the destination, getting in a cab to the seaport, going on their cruise and heading straight back to the airport to fly home.
Grossman reports that 8 to 10 percent of all Port Everglades’ cruisers opt to overnight within Greater Fort Lauderdale and sample land-based attractions and activities. So with the potential of more than 584,000 new cruisers annually sailing on Royal Caribbean’s new Oasis of the Seas from Port Everglades starting later this year, “we want to take an opportunity to let those cruise passengers see what their port of embarkation really looks like,” says Grossman. Sister ship Allure of the Seas also will sail from Port Everglades when it launches in 2010.
The We Love Cruisers concept was announced earlier this year but updated in mid-August to reflect a new partnership with Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises for passengers sailing from Port Everglades. During October, agents who book clients on any of seven eligible Royal Caribbean or Celebrity ships for pre- or post-cruise stays in Greater Fort Lauderdale hotels for two or more nights (for travel between October and the end of 2010) will receive a $25 American Express gift card, on top of their earned hotel commission.
With October being CLIA’s annual National Cruise Vacation Month, agents can benefit from strong industry promotion and media attention to help spur bookings. And with the new incentive, “if they sell 100 packages, they’ll get 100 gift cards,” says Grossman, noting that there is no limit on the number of cards agents can earn. Gift cards will be awarded to agents by the CVB upon completion of their clients’ booked stays.
Clients, too, will benefit. Those who extend their trip with a pre- or post-cruise stay in the destination will receive a beach starter kit in their hotel room upon arrival. The kit will include a welcome beach towel, flip flops and two “Cruise and Play VIP” cards, which provide a complimentary admission/amenity for such leisure activities as sightseeing, water sports and shopping.
For clients, Greater Fort Lauderdale has much in the way of choice—including 23 miles of beaches and 33,000 hotel rooms in all categories. Agents report the destination fields a strong Superior Small Lodgingprogram, many moderately priced hotels and several newly opened luxury properties, including a new Ritz-Carlton.
“Aside from some of our hotel [news and updates], cruisers will also discover incredible new eating experiences at on-property restaurants,” says Grossman. “Our Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art is going to be hosting a very exciting Norman Rockwell exhibition [between November 14-February 7, 2010], and our partners at the Seminole Tribe have just added new attractions at the Billie Swamp Safari, just 40 minutes west of the beach and in the heart of the Everglades.”
Check out Greater Fort Lauderdale’s website for all destination happenings, and the travel trade section’s agent toolkit. To participate in the We Love Cruisers program, visit www.sunny.org/welovecruisersform.
While Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas will home-port year-round in Port Everglades, welcoming hundreds of thousands of new passengers annually, the port also expects to host many other ships during its 2009–10 winter cruise season. Among them, for the first time, will be MSC Poesia, Seabourn Odyssey, Celebrity Equinox, Seabourn Spirit and Silversea Spirit. In addition, 38 other cruise ships, including Celebrity Solstice and Ruby Princess will sail from Port Everglades this winter.
Grossman believes the We Love Cruisers incentive is as much about building a foundation with travel agents and their clients for future business as it is about bolstering current bookings. She believes that cruisers who sample a destination might return for a full land vacation or even for another land-cruise combination stay.
The CVB has already received interest from a number of gay travel associations about cruise-land options. Virgin America and JetBlue also recently announced new air service from San Francisco to Greater Fort Lauderdale International Airport, which is a boost for West Coast agents. “We’ve had a lot of interest from cruise agents nationwide,” says Grossman, “and since the deal begins October 1, we’re helping them with additional information about our destination.”
If We Love Cruisers is a success, the CVB expects to partner later this year or next with additional cruise lines to incentivize agents to promote pre- and post-stays in the destination. If that occurs, agents say it will be interesting to watch the industry dynamics and see whether other cruise ports or destinations follow suit.
Port News & Resources
More than $9 million in improvements are planned for the Julia Terminal of the Port of New Orleans. The port plans to combine two existing terminals into one state-of-the-art facility. The state of Louisiana will invest $8.1 million in the project, with the remaining $900,000 coming from the port. It will double the port’s ability to handle multiple ships at the same time.
Port Canaveral, along central Florida’s Space Coast, has a helpful trade-specific section on its website. Just click on Travel Agent Resources to get to the trade section. There you can print a free cruise guide and post-cruise planner for clients. You’ll also see a Frequently Asked Questions section. Best of all, this agent-friendly port provides detailed port executive contact information to assist agents.
Cruisers are being encouraged to stay and explore Fort Lauderdale’s many land and waterway attractions