Booking Ease

Royal Caribbean’s Espresso’s Phase Two lets agents see what staterooms are available in real time, book them and manage them. Pictured here are Harmony of the Seas’ Central Park Balcony Cabins.

If a travel agent can make a cruise booking easily and rapidly with just a few clicks, then it’s possible to have more time to do other things — such as sell more cruises. So cruise lines with burgeoning capacity growth are doing a lot to help agents sell more efficiently. One of the biggest enhancements this fall is the introduction of Espresso’s Phase Two, the latest update by Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises.

Top feature? Agents whose consortia, franchise or host company has block space can now sell right into the group space with a few clicks online. “Last year, we launched Espresso and it was the foundation, whereas now it’s the ‘big payoff’ for agents as this [selling into their own host / franchise / consortia group’s block space] is what agents have been asking for,” says Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and trade, support and service. “It has other new bells and whistles too.” Prime new features are:
Headquarter groups: Members of a headquarters — a cooperative of travel agencies — have the ability to easily view and book into their headquarters’ group inventory.
Simplified groups management: Reserving and managing all groups can be done in fewer steps and clicks.
Group amenity points redemption: Group amenity plus points can now be easily redeemed, shared and even purchased online.
Streamlined groups payments: Easy-to-use, more intuitive group shell and group booking payment system, which can generate guest invoices.
Expanded groups reporting: Group shell and group booking owners can create and manage their own reports, including booking invoices and financial statements.
Enhanced stateroom availability search: Travel partners can find available staterooms on multiple decks with interactive deck plans, including the 50 best open staterooms per category and accommodations closest to a specific stateroom with the “Closest Stateroom” filter.

Juan Silva, Royal Caribbean’s director, e-distribution strategy and development-sales, says the line currently has agent training via a webinar at www.cruisingpower.com or www.espresso.com. “We invite agents to register and then walk them through a live version [of the system],” says Silva. “It’s a simulated training tool, and they can see all the features.”

Unlike last year, there wasn’t a pre-launch with top travel partners prior to the release of Espresso’s Phase Two. But Royal says it is meeting with consortia to discuss the program benefits. At press time, it had met with Signature Travel Network and Vacation.com and others as well. Silva says the company is walking them through the process, and then consortia, host agencies and franchise groups will meet with members so all are aware of how things will work.

Freed detailed how Espresso’s Phase Two will save agents a ton of time. In the past, if someone was trying to book into a headquarters block, they literally had to get off the phone with the client, and tell them, “Let me call you back.” Then, depending on the time zone, the agent would need to find out the information from their consortia, call back the client and say yes or no. And, in some cases, if the answer was no, then it starts all over again.

“All the back and forth eats up valuable selling time that travel professionals really don’t have today,” says Freed. “Now, they can see what is available in real time, pull the stateroom online, book it and manage it.” It’s more efficient for both the cruise line and agents.

Other lines too are making enhancements. Ken Muskat, executive vice president of MSC Cruises, says that as part of the line’s ongoing “MSC Serving You” trade initiatives, it’s just launched a new and improved group program called EZ Groups, applicable to all Caribbean and European sailings. Requesting that group space via MSC Book, the company’s new travel agent booking engine, has been made easier.

Shown here is how travel agents can send eTickets directly from the “Manage Booking” section of MSC Book.

MSC Cruises has also made some major new enhancements to MSC Book, which went live early October. Those ideas came directly from travel agent focus group feedback. What does the new technology do? Agents can send eTickets directly from the “Manage Booking” section of MSC Book. Beverage packages are now available to be booked at step 3 and in the “Manage Booking” section. The system also accepts split payments so agents can use multiple credit cards from clients for deposits and other payments.

What else is new in MSC Book? There’s a new pop-up warning for session time-out and agents can extend their session. A second cruise can be added to the same booking number. Agents can apply the Voyagers Club discount for bookings in “option” status, plus promotional details are now visible while in Cruise Search by hovering over the sailing date.

In addition, agents can download shore trips by port or the entire itinerary. MSC says there is an “improved user experience after making group bookings” as well as a new access form to request changes to an existing group via e-mail. Coming soon, a penalty date will show in the booking details section once a booking is in booked status.

At press time, Scott Knutson, vice president of sales and marketing, Costa Cruises North America said a new agent portal, C – Extra, was slated to debut on or about November 21 to provide agents with marketing materials, a blog, the latest specials and a reporting area where agencies can access up-to-date production information. The home page houses the latest information on product enhancements, amenities, YouTube videos, and it’s also where agents will log in to PayMod. A new tab provides an archive of the latest blog posts, press releases and relevant news articles. A promotion section will display the latest deals, and mirror what consumers receive via e-mail each week.

In the Useful Information area, agent users can find general Terms and Conditions plus information about what to pack, onboard currency, fares / charges / taxes / fees, dining schedules, kids’ club information and rules, and more. Agents will also be able to use the site to download ship photos, Costa’s logo, deck plans, fleet guide, beverage package, Samsara Spa menu and more. C - Extra also offers agents access to CostaClub, CostaClick and MyCosta. In the video area of the site, travel professionals will find all relevant YouTube videos of ships, destinations, product enhancements and the company’s history.

Costa ship guests can customize their cruise with special dining arrangements and spa services (among other items) using MyCosta.

PayMod is a section where users are able to view details about bookings and groups, including payments, charge details, wire transfers and so on. Users can make a payment for single (or several) bookings at once at their convenience. They can also view payment inquiries.

MyCosta also recently added enhancements to its program. Guests and travel agents can access MyCosta by visiting www.mycosta.com, and entering the guest’s last name and booking number. Guests can view all details of their cruise, including a countdown to embarkation day and the cruise itinerary. They can also complete Web check-in and print their boarding passes. Guests can customize their cruise with pre-arrangement of shore excursions, beverage packages, special dining arrangements, spa services and more. Payment of those extras will not be required until the end of the cruise. And guests can easily see all they have pre-arranged in one convenient location.

More Tech Updates

Cruise Planners is working on eRez 3.0, a re-engineering of its reservations system for franchise agency owners and agents. Other latest techie tools include CP Insights, which mines data for economic, demographic and behavioral segments, so agents can market to the right client with relevant promotions, sales and marketing pieces.

CP View, another new tool, will help agents match sailings and itineraries with special audiences based on customer data, sales trends and consumer behavior. With new automated e-mail confirmations, Cruise Planners agents can e-mail reservations from hundreds of vendors and have the fields instantly input into the back-end data system. Agents can get paid faster and with less manual entry.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ online Travel Agent Center has a new “Marketing Central” platform which offers customizable, downloadable, flyers, print ads, e-mails, web banners and social media posts. Agents can review marketing layouts, choose the best one for their needs, and add their name, contact information and call to action. Then they can download it for free or print the pieces for a fee. An agent can also send a customized e-mail directly from Marketing Central at no cost by uploading an e-mail distribution list.