The Most Innovative People in Cruise Travel

With 2017 drawing to a close, Travel Agent talked with multiple consortia leaders, travel agency owners, travel agents and industry experts and asked: “Who are the most innovative, influential or trendsetting cruise leaders or personalities out there in the cruise industry?” 

Our emphasis is on people of all levels — not necessarily the highest in the hierarchy — who agents believe are creating revenue opportunities, supporting the trade and changing the cruise selling marketplace. 

We asked many agents and consortia officials to tell us who’s paving the way for agencies to earn more revenue and enhance their businesses? What personalities in the cruise industry are bringing new consumers to cruising? Who is improving the sales arena for agents? Who is building the marketplace pool of new-to-cruise with cutting edge products and services? 

Cruise Powerhouses

Masterful Managing of Talent and Technology: Masterful at managing a massive portfolio of cruise brands, ARNOLD DONALD, president and CEO, Carnival Corporation, is also an artist in hiring and putting the right talent in the right place. For example, he lured away several Disney Cruise Line technology experts, including John Padgett and Michael Jungen (see separate item in this story) who became part of a team that created Carnival’s new wearable Ocean Medallion proprietary technology; it’s being introduced in phases, starting this month and continuing through spring 2018 on Princess Cruises

Arnold Donald 

Growing up in New Orleans’ low-income Ninth Ward, Donald credits his mom, dad and teachers for helping him become the success he is today. Previously a Carnival Corporation director, he assumed the day-to-day management helm of Carnival Corporation & plc in 2013. In less than five years, he has streamlined operations and achieved record-breaking profitability in 2016. Strong growth across the multiple Carnival Corp. brands has created more cruise berths to sell and greater potential revenue in all cruise segments — from contemporary to premium and luxury. Also important for the trade, he strives to exceed guest expectations and understands that skilled travel agents are critical in the effort to match the right customer to the right brand. 

Donald, who serves on boards of several other Fortune 500 companies, has also created cost-saving synergies that spread across Carnival Corp. brands. Yet, he has stayed true to the company’s philosophy of allowing each brand to have its own visible leadership and unique brand attributes. For example, Cunard Line recently ordered a new ship, which will have the hull design (although a stretched version) of Holland America Line’s Koningsdam, but the two brands remain "distinctly different.”

Creating Price Stability, Building “Wow” Ships: Travel agents credit RICHARD FAIN, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCL), parent company of Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, for several bold, trade-benefitting moves. In a deliberate policy stand, Fain has allowed cabins to sail empty rather than always severely discounting them close to the sailing date. As a result, cruise pricing has stabilized, revenue soared and the booking window extended. Agents love that their clients are less likely to return from a cruise and complain that a fellow guest paid less for his or her cabin by waiting until the last minute to book. 

Richard Fain 

Brad Tolkin, co-chairman/CEO, World Travel Holdings, cites another reason why Fain is an obvious choice for this cover story. Simply put, it’s the vision to dream big as Fain did for Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis-class ships. People thought they’d never be successful. After all, no one had attempted to build ships of that size with such incredible features as the scooped out Central Park and Boardwalk neighborhoods within the ship’s interior superstructure. Who knew that guests would love “interior balcony” staterooms with sky views? But with its many “wow” features, Oasis of the Seas was a roaring success from the get-go. 

Today, multiple Oasis-class ships sail the world’s oceans — with Symphony of the Seas coming in 2018. Fares for those ships are the highest in Royal Caribbean International’s fleet, driving excellent commission checks for agents and record profitability for the cruise company. In addition, Fain has beefed up Azamara’s competitive position by purchasing a third ship and is also putting his creative imprint on the new Celebrity Edge.  

Creating the World’s Most Luxurious Ship: Strolling onto the new Seven Seas Explorer, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ guests feel enveloped in luxury. Looking around, they see world-class artwork, rich fabrics, fine furnishings and wow touches, plus if they’re in the Regent Suite, they can spread out in 4,400 square feet of space, not counting the balcony and every luxury amenity and feature. What they may not realize, however, is that they’re entering a masterpiece created from scratch by FRANK DEL RIO, president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Regent Seven Seas’ parent company, who was “hands-on” for nearly every aspect of the project from design concept to construction and outfitting. 

Frank Del Rio

For Del Rio, son of Cuban immigrants who arrived in the U.S. in the 1960s, it’s just one of the many achievements that have defined his career. In 2017, this proud Cuban-American celebrated the cruise industry’s return to Cuba as he sailed on Oceania Cruises’ Marina into Havana, where he still has relatives. In spring 2017, he launched a new ship, Norwegian Joy, for Asian sourcing, spreading that contemporary brand’s reach farther across the globe. And Oceania Cruises, which Del Rio founded in 2002 with a value-added approach to fares, rather than discounting, continues to thrive; the value-add concept has now become an industry standard, helping keep revenue in agents’ pockets. 

Today, Del Rio manages three brands — Oceania, Regent Seven Seas and Norwegian Cruise Line — and has built the world’s third largest cruise company based on a strong destination focus, innovations in ship design, revitalization of existing tonnage, opening new markets in China and the South Pacific, and more. He also focuses on the importance of a strong agency distribution system, speaking to agents whenever possible, such as at Cruise Planners’ first Luxury Forum a few months ago. 

A “No-NCF” Product Delivers Scandinavian Design, Ship Synergies: Some cruise executives believe every ship — even in the same class as another existing one — must have new, never-before-seen razzle-dazzle features such as multi-deck water slides or a race track. But not TORSTEIN HAGEN, chairman, Viking Cruises, who brings a Scandinavian design sensibility and “thinking man’s approach” to a tried-and-true design from ship to ship. Frankly, ship names seem truly superfluous to the Viking guest experience, which is virtually identical ship to ship. 

Torstein Hagen 

Translation? The ship is never the star, the brand clearly is. Guests know exactly what to expect from ship to ship, the brand just seems “bigger” and fast-paced growth has put four ships with clean lines and modern design (soon to be five in 2018) on the world’s oceans in just three years. It’s a comfortable experience from the multi-story Living Room to Mamsen’s, a deli featuring Hagen’s mother’s own recipes, from the open-access thermal suite in the Scandinavian spa (complete with a snow grotto) to a two-level forward Explorers’ Lounge brimming with books, a telescope and features that fuel enrichment activities.

Separately on global rivers, the company continues that same cookie-cutter philosophy of design with just a few exceptions so guests know what spaces and features they’ll have within an individual class of ship. Operating the world’s largest river fleet, Viking will have an incredible 69 river vessels by 2019, including seven more new Longships. For agents, though, the big sales hook is Viking’s “No NCFs” policy, giving agents more commission on more features, a big competitive plus for the line.

Pioneering a Millennial / Gen Xer River Brand: BRETT TOLLMAN, CEO, The Travel Corporation, owner of multiple travel brands including Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, is pioneering a new concept that no one has attempted — a new river cruise brand, U By Uniworld, which has been designed solely for those 21 to 45, essentially the Millennial / Generation X crowd. Simply put, Tollman, whose company also promotes youth travel via the Travel Corporation’s Contiki brand, is bringing a fresh, new approach to river cruising. Some would say it’s risky, others bold. Most agents simply call it “smart.”

Brett Tollman 

Delivering the vision to make the leap with a strong dose of innovation, Tollman, along with Ellen Bettridge, Uniworld’s president and CEO, is creating a “from the ground up” brand with everything from U Hosts, who are on hand to bring guests to their favorite local hot spots and hidden gems in each city, to a “silent disco” onboard, with guests dancing the night away to live DJ music pumped through headsets (maintaining quiet on the vessel for others onboard and people ashore.)

U By Uniworld hopes to draw younger travelers. What’s important is that these aren’t future travelers but those already in the marketplace right now, and their numbers are huge. Industry-wide research reveals that European river cruises should be a hit with Millennials and Generation Xers for several reasons. First, river cruising is a hassle-free way to float through Europe and visit multiple destinations. Second, it offers good flexibility for exploring ashore. Third, it has the ability — based on U By Uniworld’s new product features — to deliver one-of-a-kind, authentic local experiences. Agents benefit too by gaining new younger clients and for a product with high commission potential. 

European Style, American Features and More U.S. Berths: Within just a few years, PIERFRANCESCO VAGO, executive chairman of MSC Cruises since 2013 and prior to that the company’s CEO, has created unprecedented — 800 percent — growth and significant new capacity for agents to sell. Moving from a small fleet of older vessels, today’s MSC Cruises boasts a modern fleet of new vessels and is now the world’s fourth largest oceangoing cruise company. Between this year and 2026, Vago expects to take delivery of 11 new next-generation mega cruise ships, an investment of approximately $10 billion. 

Pierfrancesco Vago 

What’s innovative? For starters, agents point to the newest ships’ innovative MSC Yacht Club, a ship-within-a-ship enclave. This private, exclusive complex allows luxury clients to have a more intimate cruising experience with their own pool, lounge and dining venue, yet to sail on an amenity-laden large ship so guests can venture out for more dining, big-ship entertainment and activity options. Agents also can’t wait for MSC Seaside, the first in a new class of warm-weather cruising ships. It’s built for operating roundtrip cruises from Miami to the Caribbean and debuts in South Florida this month. Cutting-edge design features include an aft section much akin to a condominium / hotel and a waterfront boardwalk with dining, activity and strolling space. 

With input from the MSC Cruises USA team — industry veterans Rick Sasso, chairman, and Roberto Fusaro, president — the U.S. departing cruises also have incorporated features Americans expect, such as salmon, steak or a Caesar salad available nightly (in addition to regular menu choices). Yet, MSC Cruises offers a distinctly European experience. So it’s a different product from other lines departing from the U.S. — giving agents both more berths and a differentiated experience to sell. In addition, MSC has made shore trips booked in advance commissionable to agents.  

Innovators Extraordinaire

Bringing an Expedition-Style Feel to Ultra-Luxury: In the 2018 Virtuoso Luxe Report, active or adventure trips were cited as second in Top Travel Trends, surpassed only by multigenerational travel. Some luxury lines sail their own luxury expedition ships, but the ultra-luxury Seabourn has created that expedition-style flair on its classic ships, when they’re sailing in high adventure regions — such as Antarctica, Alaska, Greenland / Iceland, Australia and other points across the globe.

Making it all happen — to give mainstream luxury clients an expedition-style experience — is ROBIN WEST, director of expedition operations, Seabourn. Participating in more than 40 Antarctic voyages on multiple lines over the years, West developed the adventurous content for the line’s new Ventures by Seabourn program and, at the same time, a stellar reputation among agents who believe he’s changed the ground game at Seabourn. For example, this past summer Seabourn returned to Alaska for the first time in 15 years, and West, a veteran explorer of expeditions on every continent, created immersive, Zodiac and adventure excursions to bring guests close to wildlife, glaciers and whales, as well as to delve first-hand into eco-adventure and local culture. 

Robin West 

West is singled out here because he’s expanded the expedition-style experience on a non-expedition ship product. From the agent perspective, it makes selling the product much easier as retailers already have established relationships with the line and their loyal customers are loving the new Ventures by Seabourn activities. 

Diving into New Waters: Launching a major new brand — let alone one for Sir Richard Branson,  Virgin Group’s founder — is no small job, but TOM MCALPIN, president and CEO, Virgin Voyages, is clearly up to the task, having served previously as president of Disney Cruise Line and also former president of The World Residences at Sea, both highly differentiated cruise brands. Sir Richard is clearly hoping McAlpin can wave his magic wand and similarly work his magic on the new young-at-heart, not-a-cruise brand launching in 2020. 

Tom McAlpin 

What’s special? In late October, McAlpin announced that Virgin Voyages would debut as an adults-only brand — a surprise to many observers yet an innovative concept for cruising. While the concept excludes a huge pool of potential cruisers (the family market), it has the ability to attract another huge and untapped segment — the non-cruiser who either says, “I’d never take a cruise,” or “I wouldn’t want to cruise on a big ship with kids running everywhere.” 

McAlpin’s background includes successfully managing ocean-going brands that are a bit different. Part of Disney Cruise Line’s founding team in 1995, he clearly saw what positive steps and missteps that brand took initially but helped craft it into a massively successful brand. He spent 14 years with “The Mouse,” including five years as Disney Cruise Line’s president. He also spent five years at The World, the condo cruise ship brand, before joining Virgin Voyages in 2015.

Mastering the Art of Ship Design: Revolutionizing Celebrity Cruises’ premium cruise experience is LISA LUTOFF-PERLO, president and CEO, who established the line’s “modern luxury” positioning within the market in a big way, launched the popular Solstice-class ships and paved a new path in ship design innovation with the new Celebrity Edge, launching in late 2018. In addition to her brand role, Lutoff-Perlo also leads RCL’s Global Marine Organization, ensuring that the corporation’s fleet comprising 49 ships runs safely, smoothly and efficiently.

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo 

At Seatrade earlier this year, trade leaders, including Van Anderson of Avoya Travel, were astounded at Celebrity Edge’s innovative ship design, which is sure to change shipbuilding standards for years to come. Forbes’ March 14, 2017 online issue proclaimed: “This Woman is the Force Behind the World’s Coolest New Cruise Ship.” With Celebrity Edge, the ship’s super structure (the bulkheads that typically somewhat restrict views between the stateroom and the outer balcony) will move farther into the ship’s interior. That will create innovative Edge Staterooms with Infinite Veranda that are larger than normal accommodations on other vessels and with more unobstructed views. Most notably, the far exterior glass will either drop down to create an open-air balcony or can be raised to create more interior space and allow seating, relaxing and dining closer to the water, even in bad weather. New two-level Edge Villas will have private plunge pools. 

Also incredible is the new “Magic Carpet” cantilevered off the ship’s one side; it will move up and down and at different decks will become either a spacious loading / tender dock or, alternatively, a restaurant, lounge or other hot spot for guests. At all levels, the goal is to bring the ocean closer. Celebrity designer Nate Berkus is the ship’s design ambassador and heads the stellar interior design team.

Separately, Lutoff-Perlo and Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service, have partnered to create value-added opportunities with the popular “Go Big, Go Better, Go Best” approach, popular with agents who can match the best fare to what clients desire, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. A champion for women in business, Lutoff-Perlo was named the number-one leader on The Commonwealth Institute (TCI) of South Florida’s 2016 listing of 50 top women-led businesses. 

Developing an Ultra-Luxury Lifestyle Brand: Having purchased Crystal Cruises, Genting Hong Kong is now investing heavily in the ultra-luxury brand’s future. Today, Crystal is not just a cruise line but also a “luxury lifestyle” brand that’s expanded its reach, with leadership and vision from TAN SRI LIM KOK THAY, chairman and CEO, Genting Hong Kong. In 2016 and 2017, Crystal moved in rapid-fire fashion into European river cruising on the Rhine and Danube, with multiple new river vessels on order.

Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay 

It also plans to launch the small-ship, Polar-Class, oceangoing Crystal Endeavor at the end of 2019. Genting also expanded Crystal’s brand into air — with acquisition of a Bombardier Global Express XRS jet for private Crystal Luxury Air charters and a new Boeing 777-ER for private luxury Crystal AirCruises journeys. Most welcome for agents whose clients love the ultra-luxury Crystal Cruises product, Genting Hong Kong is investing in a new class of ocean ship with the first vessel to set sail in 2022. 

It has been amazing watching Crystal in motion the past several years transforming from a high-quality yet staid brand with older tonnage to a new, vibrant and revitalized brand with more components, new ventures and new ships. Certainly, Edie Rodriguez, the line’s former president and CEO, who moved this fall to small-ship Ponant, did much to put the new Crystal on the map. But Thay had the brand vision and opened up Genting’s financial coffers to make change happen. He also hired cruise industry veteran Tom Wolber, a former Disney executive (see “One to Watch” below), as Crystal’s new president and CEO. Thay also manages an extensive portfolio of hospitality, gaming and cruise brands, including Star Cruises, Genting Cruises and Dream Cruises

Creating Cuisine that’s a Top Draw: The recent MMGY Global research showed that 90 percent of consumers say “food available onboard” is what influences them to book a cruise; that’s second only to accommodations. In addition, 69 percent cited “fine dining” as a feature influencing them to take a cruise, and for Millennials, that’s 74 percent. The rise of the culinary cruiser has not gone unnoticed by cruise lines. Certainly, the industry has a slew of stand-out chefs and culinary partnerships. 

Our sources liked everything from the fine dining Relais & Chateaux offerings on Silversea Cruises to creative cuisine by Holland America Line’s Culinary Council, headed by Rudi Sodamin, from the James Beard Foundation Partnership of Windstar Cruises to Oceania’s upscale Jacques Pepin venue, to name just a few of the top dining draws at sea. A stand-out for many, though, is Japanese CHEF NOBU MATSUHISA and his fine-dining Asian restaurant — Silk Road and The Sushi Bar, recently rebranded as Umi Uma & Sushi Bar on Crystal Cruises’ recently refreshed Crystal Symphony and, soon to be rebranded, after a fall 2018 ship refreshment, on Crystal Serenity

Chef Nobu Matsuhisa

“Nobu” is famed for Japanese fusion dishes with Peruvian ingredients. He swept the culinary world by storm when he opened Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills in 1987 and his first New York restaurant in 1994. Today, the celebrity chef has 37 restaurants around the globe, from Beijing and Budapest to Melbourne and Mexico City. Crystal’s specialty dining venues remain the only Nobu restaurants at sea. 

Matsuhisa personally trains the chefs, who create such sushi and sashimi as salmon tartar, tiradito Nobu-style and yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño. A savory main dish is lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce and Nobu’s signature dessert is a bento box filled with chocolate soufflé cake with shiso syrup and sesame ice cream. Increasingly, agents seeking to entice clients to book are outlining foodie experiences, and Matsuhisa certainly serves up a distinctive one at sea. 

Mastering the Art of the Destination: The new “Cruise Global, Connect Local” approach is a personal passion for LARRY PIMENTEL, president and CEO, Azamara Club Cruises, who some agents simply call “Mr. Destination.” His goal is for guests to see the top local sites, of course, but perhaps even more importantly, to have a truly authentic, local experience ashore. We particularly like that Pimentel’s team has created new restaurant experiences with a “local flair,” both for small groups and individuals. Also, while some lines take an “If It’s Tuesday, it Must Be Belgium,” approach to port calls or only a short visit at some ports, Azamara builds in plenty of time ashore. 

Larry Pimentel 

The upper premium line has added more overnights in ports — even double or triple overnights in a few highly popular destinations — as well as plenty of late night stays in port until 9 p.m. or even much later into the night. So, cruisers have leisurely time for dining, nightlife or cultural events, or just to mix up with the locals over friendly conversation. Back onboard, Pimentel has transformed the Azamara guest experience with more upscale elements in dining and accommodation, and clients will see extensive refurbishments that have kept Azamara Quest and Azamara Journey looking fresh. Thanks to Pimentel, more guests are seeing cruise as a comfortable, hassle-free means to the destination, where they can engage in one-of-a-kind adventures and see how people live their lives in far-flung places. 

A steadfast champion for travel agents, Pimentel has built successful cruise lines and brands while accumulating a unique body of knowledge about affluent travelers and the experiences that appeal to them, which he freely shares with the trade. Most notably, Azamara will expand its reach in 2018 with the recent purchase of a third, former R-class ship, soon to become Azamara Pursuit. Now agents can offer loyal Azamara clients new destinations, giving the trade more booking potential on this brand. 

Unwavering, Consistent Trade Support: For travel agents, true innovation from a cruise leader is not simply razzle-dazzle but even more importantly, “a superior level of consistency” — a philosophy to support agents that’s not only exemplary in intent, but also sustained consistently over a period of decades. That’s certainly easy to say, but much tougher to do. During this fall’s CruiseOne, Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. annual conference, World Travel Holdings’ Tolkin singled out VICKI FREED, senior vice president, sales and trade support & service, Royal Caribbean International, as “the standard” by which all others in sales throughout the industry are judged for their trade relations. 

Vicki Freed 

Tolkin cited Freed’s “unwavering support” for the agency community over several decades. Today, she oversees Royal Caribbean International’s massive sales force, the industry’s largest, and also manages the brand’s trade support and service division. Her team embraces the marching orders of “Loyal to You, Always,” in showing their travel agent priority. Just one of her recent accomplishments in assisting agents is introducing a new groups rewards program with onboard credit and a revised GAP point structure; it kicks off with the line’s 2019-2020 deployment. Freed’s Facebook page is aptly called “Vicki Loves Travel Agents” and has more than 17,000 followers. 

Previously, Freed served with Carnival Cruise Line for 29 years, the last 15 as senior vice president of sales and marketing. Throughout her cruise industry career, Freed has received multiple awards for outstanding sales and marketing achievements, most notable being the Michelle Morgan Leadership Award. Earlier this year, Freed became chair of CLIA’s Trade Relations Committee, and Charles Sylvia, CLIA’s vice president, membership and trade relations, said: “Vicki wrote the book on trade engagement in the cruise industry and serving as TRC chair will elevate her ability to champion for the trade at the industry level.”

Transforming a Storied Brand: Most cruise lines have had to balance traditional brand elements with latest features to draw new and younger audiences. But the challenge is formidable with a storied brand like Holland America Line (founded in 1873) with a staunchly loyal veteran cruise clientele. Yet, ORLANDO ASHFORD, president and CEO, Holland America Line, who arrived in 2015, makes it look easy with transformative leadership. Among his team’s most innovative creations is a new multi-faceted, fleet-wide concept, Explorations Central (EXC), which combines travel resources and enrichment options to make the travel experience more vivid and engaging. 

Orlando Ashford 

Explorations Central includes EXC Tours, EXC Destination Guides, EXC Channel, a Virtual Bridge, Theater EXC and an EXC Team to engage with guests. EXC will also feature the physical transformation of the Crow’s Nest on some ships to create the “EXC at the Crow’s Nest” as a comprehensive resource and engagement center, with such techie features as interactive touch tables where guests can personalize their shore experience based on their interests. An EXC shipboard center is already on Westerdam and Zuiderdam and will debut later this month on Nieuw Amsterdam. Vista-class, Signature-class and Pinnacle-class ships all will receive this EXC physical transformation through 2019. 

Fleetwide, Holland America is also building new ships and putting $300 million into fleet refurbishment, while Ashford has added new onboard activity concepts, including America’s Test Kitchen, Blend (where guests blend wines) and the lively Music Walk, a strolling avenue with such live music venues as Billboard Onboard, Lincoln Center Stage and the B.B. King Blues Club. In the past, the cruise line’s “interior sidewalks” seemingly rolled up at night as guests headed to their staterooms. Now, more guests are going out nightly to converse, sip their favorite drink and listen to live entertainers. Ashford has evolved the Holland America Line experience so agents can still satisfy veteran cruisers but also draw in new generations with innovative concepts.  

Promoting Active Choices and Viniculture Too: River vessels — once the bastion of the older crowd — are increasingly attracting younger travelers, a boom for agents seeking to find authentic, local experiences with ease of travel for their Millennial, Generation X and active Boomer clients. Pioneering the complimentary use of bicycles for Americans going ashore in Europe, AmaWaterways now attracts many younger guests and those young at heart who can’t wait to head out on either a guided cycling tour or independent exploration. 

RUDI SCHREINER and KRISTIN KARST, husband and wife co-owners, along with partner Gary Murphy, are beloved to agents and innovative at every step. They’re recognized here for the “active” quotient and for taking that a step further by inking a partnership with Backroads, a tour operator catering to die-hard cycling enthusiasts. So, whether the guest prefers a leisurely cycle around town on any European voyage or a 12-mile cycling work-out with a Backroads cycling guide on certain dates, AmaWaterways is delivering that active experience.

Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst 

In addition, the line’s new Wellness program is a draw, as are the robust wine cruises, with plenty of inclusions such as a chance to mix and mingle with vintners, and experience wine tastings, special vineyard or cellar tours and fine regional wines poured at lunch and dinner. In 2018, the line will offer 50 wine cruises in Europe and that will expand to 60 in 2019. These traverse every European region, including Bordeaux, the Rhone / Saone, Danube, Rhine and Douro rivers. Other river lines too have wine-themed cruises, but AmaWaterways has increasingly made those an integral part of its river offerings.  

Celebrating Travel and Exploration on Instagram: The leading brand overall on Instagram — as ranked by number of followers as of August 2017 (in millions) — is National Geographic. That group’s active cruise industry links are two-fold. First, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic is a small ship operator with a fleet of National Geographic branded expedition vessels heading to the world’s most remote spots. Second, starting in 2018, Scenic will become a National Geographic partner for European river cruises.

SVEN-OLOF LINDBLAD, an industry legend in his own right and the son of Lars-Eric Lindblad, continues to innovate by strengthening the National Geographic partnership for expeditionary cruising. New this year is National Geographic Global Explorers, an exploration-based family cruise program designed in conjunction with National Geographic Education. Kids and teens now have new science, exploring and storytelling activities, designed for specific ages, skill sets and interests. The line also has developed a new wellness partnership with Exhale and debuted one new ship this year with another launching in 2018. Another new polar vessel will debut in 2020. These are all steps that continue to boost an already robust exploratory product with high earning potential for agents.

Sven-Olof Lindblad

In turn, JONI REIN, vice president, sales and marketing Scenic USA, who is working to expand the luxury brand’s footprint in the U.S. market, is also talking with travel agents about Scenic’s new partnership with National Geographic on global rivers. It will begin in 2018 with sailings in Europe on the Rhine, Danube and Bordeaux area rivers, as well as Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River. In 2019, Scenic and National Geographic will expand the program with new sailings in the Netherlands and on Portugal’s Douro River.

Joni Rein 

Stars for the Agent Community 

Revitalizing North American Trade Relations: When MARK CONROY, former president and CEO of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, joined Silversea Cruises as managing director – The Americas in early 2016, he discovered a litany of agent complaints about issues with the ultra-luxury line’s travel agent policies and services. Always a robust supporter of travel agents and their important distribution role, Conroy began a high-priority internal effort to fix the issues, while, at the same time, assuring Silversea remained a top-of-the-industry, ultra-luxury player. 

Mark Conroy 

Accomplishments? Systematically, Conroy added new agent programs, overhauled the reservations department, hired more reservations agents and fostered technology solutions. New staff training resulted in reduced call-holding time. Conroy also added more efficient booking processes and made improvements to the air program and air concierge desk. To support agents, he beefed up the outside sales force and expanded the travel agency support team at the line’s North American Miami, FL headquarters. Agents say improvements and enhancements to Silversea’s group program were also a big plus. 

Finally, Conroy — whose experience showed him that to keep pace with other ultra-luxury or luxury competitors, Silversea would need to grow and with new tonnage — lobbied owner Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio for the building of new ships to assure the line would expand moving forward. This winter, the new Silver Muse is sailing the world’s oceans, the renovated Silver Cloud is now an expedition ship and more new ships are on order. Conroy’s expertise in the sales area — coupled with Roberto Martinoli as CEO, Barbara Muckermann handling worldwide marketing and Christian Sauleau (beloved by agents) having returned as executive vice president of fleet operations — is strengthening Silversea as an ultra-luxury competitor. 

Partners First — Revitalizing and Rebuilding the Trade Relationship: Many agents point to the leadership and innovation of ANDY STUART, now president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line, for his untiring work in assuring the contemporary line is doing everything possible in trade services and policies to benefit agent partners. In 2011, Stuart, then Norwegian’s executive vice president of global sales and passenger services, introduced “Partners First,” the umbrella for increased trade support efforts. 

Andy Stuart 

Stuart’s commitment to agents was threefold — invest in long-term partner success, focus on being easy to do business with, and commit to travel partners about direct business. Even though Stuart is now at a higher executive tier, as president and CEO he remains highly committed to Partners First and recently increased the overall sales team for Norwegian by 40 percent, designed to promote the long-term success of travel partners.

Separately, travel sellers credit Stuart for bringing new clients to cruises. Formerly, the line’s chief product officer, he was responsible for delivery of the Freestyle Cruising product across the Norwegian fleet. Prior to Freestyle Cruising, cruising throughout the industry was much more structured in dining and guest activities. But in a freestyle fashion, suddenly, Norwegian’s guests weren’t just eating at a set time in the dining room, they were heading to a teppanyaki restaurant or a French continental fine dining experience, or showing up at the dining room on their own schedule. Simply put, it changed cruising forever.

Setting the Bar High for Trade Relations: Creating a trade program with the word “promise” in it sets a high bar. That’s exactly what STEVEN KONA SIMAO, vice president of sales, Windstar Cruises, did in 2016 when promising the travel agent community that he’d put them first with a new agent-centric program named “Star Promise.”

Steven Kona Simao 

He continues to be the driving force behind the program’s four pillars: delivering an extraordinary guest experience for clients; developing fresh sales tool and support to help agents build their Windstar business; crafting educational programs for both veteran Windstar agents and those new to selling the brand; and stellar agent service every day, every interaction, every reservation.

Initial results are showing marked improvements on all fronts, thanks to an executive level commitment from John Delaney, the line’s president, and Simao to putting agents first. The highly creative Simao gave “proposal” rings to agents at one conference and “messages in a bottle” at another. Last month, the line set up an agent Webinar on Alaska with one of its ship’s captains as the presenter. The line has also launched a new online booking engine which gives agents 24/7 access to book and manage reservations. Simao also has recently launched a small group program for families and friends.

Collaborating for Excellence: If there’s a partnership opportunity, CINDY D’AOUST, president and CEO, Cruise Lines International Association, will likely uncover it. D’Aoust works on strategic partnerships closely with Charles Sylvia, CLIA’s vice president, membership and trade relations, who’s highly visible at trade events, gathers and acts on agent feedback and participates in training sessions. In 2017, CLIA formed an alliance with the Professional Travel Agents of North America (PTANA) organization. In another case, CLIA’s recent partnership with Meeting Professionals International is delivering benefits to agents with CLIA’s new “Meetings & Events at Sea Certificate Program.” 

Cindy D'Aoust 

CLIA’s 2017 Membership Program now includes new perks, including the CLIA EMBARC ID (now mailed to members), two free online courses, a new entry-level Certified Cruise Counsellor (CCC) designation, refreshed ACC, MCC and ECC certification programs, personalized one-on-one career counseling with CLIA staff, a cruise finder and exclusive discounts. In addition, CLIA’s agency membership program was simplified so agencies interested in joining can choose either a travel agency membership or a premier agency membership. 

In partnership with J.D. Power, D’Aoust has expanded research efforts that help agents assure their business plan is on track. A good example is the “Cruise Industry Consumer Outlook” debuting this year; it reveals traveler insights, outlook, and attitudes regarding cruising and land-based travel. As the voice of the industry, D’Aoust also testifies before government bodies, is effective behind the scenes on challenging issues and continues to “globalize” CLIA, giving the industry as a whole (including agents) more clout worldwide. Under her watch, CLIA has added such new members as Virgin Voyages, Pandaw, Scenic, Emerald Waterways and others, and aggressively promoted “Plan a Cruise Month,” a prime booking period for cruise selling agencies. 

Helping Agents Achieve Higher Commissions: Earlier this summer, Carnival Cruise Line’s sales department created an “Amp Up Commission Challenge” and for nine months in 2018, agents will be able to significantly increase their earnings with a commission of up to 15 percent for meeting targeted booking goals set by Carnival. It’s yet another way the Fun Ship line and ADOLFO PEREZ, vice president of sales and trade marketing, Carnival Cruise Line are upping their trade support. Another is the recent debut of improved cruise and promotion research features, better site navigation and search functionality for GoCCL.com, Carnival’s online travel agent resource.

Adolfo Perez  

During his first three months on the job in 2015, Perez started off with a bang — introducing a new agent commission structure, which accelerated earning opportunities by reducing the number of sailed cabins required for each commission tier. He’s also increased one-on-one travel agent support by expanding the Carnival sales team; boosted trade show and event involvement; and launched new trade engagement programs, including the popular Agentpalooza bus tour, all part of his “Travel Agents Rock”initiative.

On his Facebook page (@adolfoperez) he chats with agents, shares personal photos and anecdotes, and gives retailers chances to win cash, gift cards and other contest prizes. A recent contest offered agents the opportunity to win up to $10,000 in cash and cruises onboard the new Carnival Horizon during its new European inaugural season. In addition, Perez has introduced commissions on future cruise credits and doubled commissions on free casino cabins.

For Superb Corporate Administration & Inclusiveness: A consummate businessman with an eye for finance, JASON MONTAGUE, president and CEO, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, deserves praise for “great administration” of the brand, according to Virtuoso agent Ruth Turpin, owner of Cruises Etc., Fort Worth, TX. In addition, “he has established — along with Randall Soy — what I think is the best sales team in the cruise business,” Turpin says. Montague was instrumental in the original acquisition of the Regent Seven Seas Cruises brand and it’s flourishing under his leadership. 

Jason Montague 

For agents, Montague continues to embrace inclusiveness, keeping earning opportunities high for those who sell luxury cruises. Regent Seven Seas’ inclusive fares now include such features as free roundtrip, business-class air on all intercontinental flights originating in the U.S. and Canada, roundtrip air on domestic flights, free unlimited shore excursions, free unlimited Wi-Fi, unlimited beverages (including fine wines and premium spirits), specialty dining, prepaid gratuities and transfers between airport and ship. Guests in Concierge-level suites and higher also enjoy a free one-night, pre-cruise hotel stay. 

Formerly, Montague served as president and COO of both Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. He’s credited with securing the financing to purchase the three R-class ships that started Oceania, plus he handled financing for Oceania’s Marina and Riviera as well as the Seven Seas Explorer. But now he’s focusing his energies on championing the Regent Seven Seas Cruises brand. 

Ones to Watch

With both the management and cruise industry chops for the job, Tom Wolber is Crystal’s new president and CEO. A former Disney executive for both Disney’s theme parks and Disney Cruise Line, he totally “gets” upscale cruising, the appeal of experiential travel and the importance of high quality service. 

Turpin spoke at length to Wolber recently by phone: “I truly believe he is going to lead Crystal in a new direction which will be more client and agent-friendly. He wants to put the emphasis back on 'ocean' and 'river,' she notes, adding that she expects Wolber’s priorities to focus on the onboard experience and the physical appearance of each luxury component. Our take? We can’t wait to see the results."

After Hurricane Maria this fall, ADAM GOLDSTEIN, president and COO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., journeyed along with other company executives to hard-hit Caribbean isles to assess post-hurricane damage and prospects for recovery. As a result, Royal Caribbean pledged to help restore Magens Bay on St. Thomas (a task that was completed last month and the bay is now welcoming cruisers again). The company is bringing its cruise ships back to the islands and Goldstein took the lead for RCL during a Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) press briefing about RCL’s support of “The Caribbean is Open for Business” initiative. Goldstein has been a rising star within RCL since he joined the company in 1988.

Adam Goldstein 

Currently Goldstein works side by side with RICHARD FAIN, Chairman and CEO, on the company’s strategic direction and directs a portfolio of responsibilities that includes human resources, information technology, supply chain, corporate communications, safety and environment, government relations, guest port operations and commercial development. 

Richard Fain 

Previously, Goldstein was president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International. Highly knowledgeable about industry affairs and cruise line operations alike, he’s clearly one to watch. 

A superb promoter and whirlwind of energy, EDIE RODRIGUEZ is the new Americas brand chairman and corporate special advisor for small-ship luxury operator, Ponant. In her former Crystal Cruises role, she’s credited for high visibility, shaking things up and establishing a luxury lifestyle focus. Now at Ponant, Rodriguez’s talents coupled with those of Navin Sawhney, Ponant’s CEO for The Americas, a highly capable leader focused on day-to-day operations and management, have the potential for amazing results. 

Edie Rodriguez 

Look for Rodriguez to focus on her specialty — sales, marketing and publicity. She’s already tweeting up a storm and talking to travel agents about the boutique French line and how to sell it effectively. Most importantly, she’s showing agents how to say “oui” to the high trade revenue opportunities that luxury Ponant delivers.  

Skilled at positioning and strategy, particularly in deepening business-to-business relationships, JOSH LEIBOWITZ, senior vice president for Cunard North America and Chief Strategy Officer for Carnival Corp., has the perfect background to lead a storied line that looks to the past for its roots, and to new ships and new guests and guest desires for its future.

Josh Leibowitz 

Many people see Cunard as a big ship line. Yes, it is, unless the guest is cocooned in pampering Grills accommodations with exclusive, private dining and a lounge. Cunard seems classic in some ways, modern in others. Positioning and strategy designed by Leibowitz are paramount in effectively differentiating the product for North American agents and their clients, particularly as the line awaits a new “Queen” in 2022. 

Two other dynamic leaders to watch out for? Both JAN SWARTZ, group president of Princess Cruises and Carnival Australia, responsible for shared services for Carnival Corporation and CHRISTINE DUFFY, president, Carnival Cruise Line, are clearly rising stars within the Carnival family of brands. Both are stellar brand leaders. Swartz secured the debut of the high-technology Ocean Medallion for the Princess Cruises brand, because, as Arnold Donald told us, she was proactive: “She raised her hand first.”

Jan Swartz 

A Harvard Business School and University of Virginia graduate, Swartz also handles executive oversight for the P&O Cruises Australia brand. At Princess Cruises, Swartz has also brought the former “Love Boat” TV series cast together for ship launches, tapping into the past as needed for a fun kick, but at the same time and even more notable, he’s moving Princess forward in a modern, high-tech way and with a strong focus on guest service. 

As the former president of CLIA, Duffy brings significant industry knowledge and leadership ability. In her first cruise brand president’s role, she’s flourishing — fostering more rock concerts at sea, introducing the popular Havana Suites (a ship-within-a-ship concept of sorts on Carnival Vista and the Carnival Horizon, launching in 2018) and rebuilding and enhancing relationships with travel agents by hiring Adolfo Perez (see his profile elsewhere in this article.). 

One thing we particularly like? Duffy clearly has a natural enthusiasm and genuine fondness for crew members she meets on Carnival’s ships — building both a personal rapport and team spirit, which is nice to see in today’s techie, fast-paced world.

Trendsetters 

For Cutting Edge Technology in the Guest Experience: Famed for inventing Disney’s cutting-edge wristband technology, JOHN PADGETT, chief experience and innovation officer, Carnival Corporation, is — along with Michael Jungen (who also was involved with Disney’s MagicBand) and others in the company’s IT arena — credited with creating Carnival’s new proprietary Ocean Medallion technology. 

John Padgett 

The guest-centric Ocean Medallion features appeal to Millennials and Generation Xers. Guests can do everything from looking for their kids on the ship to ordering their favorite drinks, opening their stateroom door, summoning their cabin steward or arranging for shore trips or movies. The highly personalized technology can be worn on a bracelet or necklace or clipped to a shirt. It will change the way clients “cruise,” and is being phased this month through spring on Regal Princess

For the “Wow” of Razzle-Dazzle Entertainment: At the recent agent events on Harmony of the Seas, MICHAEL BAYLEY, president and CEO, Royal Caribbean International, joined entertainers from the ship’s “Grease” production show on stage to welcome agents onboard. The razzle-dazzle, high quality performance was an apt start and credit to Bayley’s vision to showcase spectacular entertainment. He encourages Nick Weir, vice president, entertainment and guest activities, to deliver “the wow,” and now both Broadway producers and West End theatrical luminaries regularly call Weir, not vice versa. Let’s just say this isn’t your grandfather’s cruise entertainment.

Michael Bayley 

Today, the line’s 24 ships worldwide present approximately 5,000 headliner performances and employ more than 600 musicians and 1,500 performers — from dancers to singers, actors, comedians, aerialists, divers and others. Under Weir, Royal Caribbean has licensed full-length Broadway productions for onboard use including “Cats,” “Grease” and “Mama Mia.” Nightly, more than 85,000 guests seeking top-notch entertainment at sea enter more than two dozen onboard theaters, 11 ice studios, three AquaTheaters, and three Two70 venues, as well as myriad lounges and other spaces. 

Training for the dancers, singers and aerialists happens daily at Royal Caribbean’s massive South Florida entertainment studio, which has 14 full-size stage studios plus one aerial training and finishing studio also home to 91,400 costume pieces, 5,000 hats, 3,400 wigs, 6,000 shoes and 3,000 pieces of jewelry. Bayley and Weir are clearly delivering the “wow,” and agents are promoting the myriad, high-quality choices as an enticement to potential cruisers. 

For Family Market Creativity: JENNIFER TOMBAUGH, president, Tauck, runs a company with a luxury river cruise product and has the foresight to see that many luxury guests also are family travelers who wish to travel with children or grandchildren. Consequently, Tauck continues to enlarge its appealing portfolio of Bridges sailings on European rivers, designed specifically to bring families together. 

Jennifer Tombaugh 

While other river lines too offer family sailing dates, agents like the Tauck program for its luxury and inclusivity as shore excursions, onboard activities and exclusive experiences are all designed for families. Since no options are sold onboard, there are no surprise expenses for guests, and clients don’t have to constantly reach for their wallets. Instead, they can just enjoy the vacation with their kids. 

Tauck’s luxury river product has high commission potential, particularly if agents have several sets of adults in a family who wish to travel with children. In addition, children must be seven years of age or older to be booked, so the good news is that guests won’t hear screaming toddlers or infants. And Tauck recently replaced its former Agent Services site with Agent Connect, a new online community where agents can quickly and easily manage their clients’ accounts. 

For Charity & Compassion: While the entire cruise industry did much to assist during the recent hurricanes, agents point to MICKY ARISON, chairman of the board, Carnival Corporation, and owner of the NBA’s Miami Heat, for his charity, compassion and sense of community on a continual basis. In late summer, Carnival Cruise Line, parent Carnival Corporation and the Micky and Madeleine Arison Foundation identified Direct Relief, Houston Food Bank, Save the Children, Operation Homefront and United Way of Greater Houston to receive $2 million minimum to support relief and rebuilding in Texas following Hurricane Harvey. 

Micky Arison 

In late September, the Arison foundation also donated $2.5 million donation to Direct Relief, UNICEF and the United Way of Miami-Dade County for Hurricane Irma relief efforts. Carnival Corporation and the Miami HEAT Charitable Fund also pledged to raise up to $5 million in relief funds, while the Arison foundation also will match that up to $5 million. Both Arisons are also passionate supporters of numerous arts and community organizations. At the University of Miami, the couple has provided research funding toward The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, The Buoniconti Fund, and the Sayfie Pavilion. 

For Introducing Integrated Wellness Activities: Oceania Cruises has introduced a robust, complimentary wellness program at sea, with everything from yoga to Pilates, sunrise stretches to indoor cycling. Better yet, guests can choose from 24 professionally led classes — all free — on its six ships. It’s all about a holistic approach to mind, body and soul, and laying out options for guests in an integrated way. BOB BINDER, president and CEO, has recognized the importance of wellness within a robust portfolio of guest activity options. 

Bob Binder 

Under the new wellness program, guests can work out in the spa’s fitness facilities, take the classes with professional instructors, or even participate in more comprehensive programs like Boot Camp, full body strength training or core conditioning. Kudos to Binder for adding other health and wellness options for Oceania’s guests too, such as providing Canyon Ranch Spa Cuisine at breakfast, lunch and dinner; introducing new vegan menus; and developing new Wellness Tours Inspired by Canyon Ranch

Binder is aided by James Rodriguez, executive vice president, sales and marketing, who is promoting the line’s wellness, health and fitness bent and assisting the trade in using the wellness hook to entice clients to book. 

For Partnering with Highclere Castle: Back in 2011, Viking CruisesRichard Marnell, senior vice president of marketing, launched a groundbreaking sponsorship of PBS’s “Downton Abbey” series. Breathtaking video showcased the river cruise experience in a way Americans hadn’t thought about previously. Watching the TV series, the PBS audience of upscale, high-end clients — most new to river cruising — understood that European river cruising meant sailing into the heart of storied destinations, tasting regional wines, savoring local cuisine, meeting “the locals” and seeing a country up-close and in a truly authentic way. 

Building on that move, KARINE HAGEN, Viking’s senior vice president, subsequently fostered an ongoing relationship with Highclere Castle — “the real Downton Abbey” and setting for the show — and the iconic home’s owners, the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. Together they created a Privileged Access Oxford & Highclere Castle experience for Viking guests; agents loved the approach. Daughter of the line’s chairman, Torstein Hagen, Karine Hagen is a native of Norway, multi-lingual and has lived in the United Kingdom, United States and Russia. Her marketing career began at J. Walter Thompson, and continued in the technology and telecom sectors in St. Petersburg and Silicon Valley before she joined Viking. 

Karine Hagen 

A firm believer in the power of travel to change the world, Hagen has continued to tap into PBS partnerships. Looking closely at some promotional videos, Hagen is identifiable as the traveler with the long blonde hair who clearly loves the experiences a river cruise offers. That’s helping Viking, the entire river cruise industry and travel agents sell more river cruises to vibrant, younger vacationers. 

For Taking the Magic to ‘Marvel’ous Heights: Not all trendsetters are executives, chefs, sales whizzes or marketing stars. We tip our hat to the Marvel Super Heroes and the innovative roll-out by Disney Cruise Line of “MARVEL DAY AT SEA” on select voyages of Disney Magic this year and next. Kids of all ages can meet Captain America, Doctor Strange, Star-Lord, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Spider-Man. 

Marvel Day at Sea

In what’s proven to be wildly popular, agencies have clients specifically heading to sea to meet these “super heroes,” participate in themed experiences and more. Benefit for agents? Disney’s ownership of the comics makes it an evergreen program, most likely. This gives agents many newer, more modern ways to pitch Disney — not just the traditional experiences Boomers and Mature travelers think are important. The Marvel characters have been an amazing draw. They’re human, but more so. They’re Super Heroes, and they’re taking Disney (and agents who sell it) way beyond Cinderella. 

For Introducing New Cruisers to the Fun: Now celebrating 30 years with Carnival Cruise Line, JOHN HEALD, brand ambassador and former senior cruise director, pens “John Heald’s Blog,” a personal diary about daily shipboard life on Carnival’s “Fun Ships.” Heald’s blog has more than 19 million views and draws many new-to-cruise guests, helping build the overall pool of new clients for cruise vacations.

John Heald 

Often humorous, insightful and, at times, irreverent, Heald offers an honest look at shipboard life. He reveals behind-the-scenes tidbits about the crew, interactions with guests, product nuggets, what’s new for the brand, advice to people about how to have the best cruise experience and more. His Facebook page is also off the charts.

For Speeding Things Up, Envisioning Virtual Reality: Certainly, slow bandwidth, sluggish Wi-Fi and not being able to get online when you want are issues that have plagued the industry for many years. That changed, though, as Royal Caribbean International introduced Voom, high-speed Internet with a significant bandwidth investment and technological upgrades that have revolutionized the onboard guest experience. Guests can now stream Netflix, make fast connections to e-mail and do everything online they would do at home.

But now, JAY SCHNEIDER, senior vice president, digital, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., and the company’s IT team are looking well beyond the simplicity of fast Internet to some cutting-edge tech enhancements. At the Brooklyn Navy Yard last month, Richard Fain, Schneider (who previously worked as vice president, digital guest experience, the Walt Disney Company) and the IT team showcased Excalibur, a non-proprietary, open source techie approach to introducing cutting-edge technology onboard ships. 

Jay Schneider 

Some Excalibur elements began rolling out in August; these include facial recognition to speed boarding, smartphone apps to control staterooms, open doors and order drinks; “X-ray vision”; a chatbot; virtual reality shore trip videos; and crew apps that prompt them on guest intel such as birthdays and favorite drinks. By late 2018, Excalibur elements should be on half the company’s fleet and on all ships by late 2019. Schneider and Fain also laid out some “blue sky” elements, showing their desire to dream big. Some of these may become reality, others not — everything from virtual reality dining to a “stateroom of the future.”

For Unusual Exotic River and Coastal Itineraries: This year marks the 152nd anniversary of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company and the 22nd since its revival by Burma historian Paul Strachan in 1995. A pioneer in Asian river cruising, the line currently has 17 owned ships operating on the rivers of Southeast Asia within Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and China. The face of Pandaw for many U.S. agents is MARCO ROSA, vice president, sales and marketing, Pandaw River Expeditions, who not only deals with sales needs but also educates agents about the region.

Marco Rosa 

In many cases, Pandaw digs down deeper than most lines for itinerary design. For example, sailing to a coastal area of hundreds of remote islands rarely visited by westerners, the seven-night Mergui Archipeligo voyages will take clients to meet sea gypsies and to off-the-beaten-path spots for snorkeling and kayaking. Separately, Pandaw has a Southeast Asian river itinerary that journeys north to Kratie in Cambodia and is designed to allow clients to see endangered river dolphins

For Staying the Course: Anyone who’s ever been through a tragic workplace accident or personal loss knows how difficult it is to keep on going. But that’s exactly what the entire “Costa Cruises’ family of employees” did after the 2012 Costa Concordia accident and subsequent five-year saga that played out day after day on television air waves and in print media — from the captain’s Italian court conviction and prison sentence to the incredible engineering saga of the stricken ship being “righted” and towed to Genoa for dismantling.

But the Costa family — including RUBEN PEREZ, general manager, and Scott Knutson, vice president of sales and marketing, both with Costa Cruises North America — stayed the course. Costa Deliziosa sails from South Florida this winter. The Italian-style cruising is drawing new customers and the fleet is growing as Costa Smeralda, the line’s first ship powered by LNG, is now under construction in Europe. And for travel agents, Perez and Knutson are creating perks and benefits via Costa’s “Here for You” partner program. 

Ruben Perez 

Quick Kudos

  • For Beds with a View: Agents cheer the team at Avalon Waterways for creating staterooms with beds facing the scenery. It’s both a differentiating feature for the line and a selling hook for agents. 
     
  • For a Slow Boat through France: Barging is a slower, more intimate river vacation. Retailers give kudos to European Waterways, Barge Lady Cruises, French Country Waterways, Croisi-Europe (which offers river and barge cruises) and others for giving them another cruising alternative — pampering “slow-boat” barges that ply quieter, smaller waterways and canals.
     
  • For a Cruise that Isn’t: While most people love traditional cruising, some don’t. To entice them onto the water, Un-Cruise Adventures, alternatively, taps into wilderness, wildlife and small-ship adventures.
     
  • For Sharing “Match Up” Intel: Agents can tap into Hurtigruten’s customer profile technology, an advanced tool for identifying potential clients and a revamped travel agent certification program, “How to Hurtigruten: Amundsen Explorer Club.”

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