Cruise Line Sales & Marketing Execs "On the Hot Seat" at Cruise360

vicki freed Royal Caribbean Editorial use Only Photo by Susan J Young
Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean International is questioned "On the Hot Seat" by James Ferrara, president of InteleTravel.

Eight top sales and marketing executives each took their turn on “On the Hot Seat” at the second General Session of Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA’s) annual Cruise360 conference on Thursday. 

Approximately 1,300 travel agents are attending this week’s annual conference at Port Everglades, FL. Most of those attended this program, moderated by James Ferrara, president of InteleTravel.com.

Growing Your Agency's Business

Helping agents to grow their business, the executives offered product tidbits, sales tips and trade promotional details and tools. They also talked about social responsibility and outlined eco-focused/sustainability/charitable programs in line with the theming for this year’s conference. 

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Ferrara urged agents to share those kinds of programs with clients to demonstrate that “their travel dollars can do good and that they’re spending their money on something that’s meaningful. That’s a special lesson for us today.”  

In this Part One of a two-part series, here are comments from four of the executives; the other four will be featured in Part 2, running this weekend.   

Bringing the Destination Onboard

First onto "The Hot Seat" was John Chernesky, vice president, North America sales, Princess Cruises and Cunard Line.

Princess seeks to differentiate itself as a destination leader, but when “everyone pretty much goes to the same destinations, how is the Princess experience different?” Ferrara asked.

It's really about “bringing the destination onto the ship,” Chernesky said, citing the line’s new partnership with Discovery Communications. One example? Princess’ new Rhythms of the Caribbean program will bring “live” parrots to the ships’ piazzas, he said, quipping, “they’re controlled, don’t worry.”

Ferrara then asked about the status of Ocean Medallion, the line's innovative new onboard technology platform. “In anything that involves a lot of technology it can get messy,” acknowledged Chernesky. "So I think we had great aspirations for how this is going to take over the entire cruise experience, and one day it will, but right now we’re in the testing phase” on Regal Princess.

“We want to make sure we get it right before we launch it out to the rest of our fleet,” he stressed. But he described the new MedallionNet, the line’s super-fast Internet, as “amazingly successful,” because guests can have a similar surfing experience to what they have at home.

When asked about social responsibility and Fathom, which ceased operating as a stand-alone cruise brand last year but still exists within the corporation and is helping the brands create social experiences, “the Fathom team is alive and well,” Chernesky told the audience.

He said that during Fathom Week on Princess Cruises, a small group of about 200 guests receive exclusive, immersive training onboard, and then go ashore and do things to give back to the local communities, whether it’s a beach clean-up or helping educate children.

“We’ve already done two cruises this year and we have four more to go, all in the Caribbean,” he said. "So have a look at this for your clients who are interested in social involvement cruising.”

Ferrara then asked about “cold ironing,” an eco-friendly term for the process of ships sailing into port and plugging into shore power rather than running their engines. Chernesky stressed that in Juneau, AK, for example, shoreside electricity is generated by eco-friendly hydroelectric power.

In talking briefly about Cunard, Chernesky urged agents to consider a once-in-a-lifetime [for many] transatlantic itinerary and also to take a look at new 10-day Alaska sailings in 2019.

Quality Combined With Energy

Next up "On the Hot Seat" was Vicki Freed, senior vice president, sales and trade support and service, Royal Caribbean International, who is celebrating her 10th anniversary with the line this year. The audience cheered as she took the stage.

Ferrara asked Freed to give the agents her “elevator pitch,” or sound bite that agents can use to help clients. Given all the information out there, Freed acknowledged it can be hard for agents to really understand what each brand is all about. 

That said, “I’m going to make it really simple for Royal Caribbean,” she said. “We are the unique combination of quality combined with energy.”

He also asked why the line is known as a family cruise line, to which Freed said that “we build ships so we can accommodate families, not just in the size of the staterooms but …we have staterooms that can hold 16 people – four bedrooms, four baths.”

But she also said the line has many staterooms that accommodate five and six guests. From a family perspective, she also pointed to the supervised children’s programs which range from caring for infants and toddlers to satisfying teens.  

In addition, “the ships are built with activities that teens love, and if you keep the teens happy, you keep the parents happy," emphasized Freed, mentioning Flow Rider, zip lines and more.

She also relayed to agents about how the line takes the safety of families seriously. Freed said everyone involved in the children’s programming has a minimum four-year college degree in early childhood education or something relating to the age group they’re handling.

Crew in these areas are also CPR trained and vetted. She also said 30 days before sailing, the passenger manifest is checked against registered child offender lists. If so, “we protect your commission but we ask these people not to sail with us as it’s important for all families to feel safe and secure,” Freed said.

Asked about her blog for agents, Freed said she’s been doing tips for four years. Her favorite tip? It’s a quote from Maya Angelou: "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Then in addressing the line's World Wildlife Fund partnership, Freed said: “We cruise in the waters and we want to make sure the animals are protected"...and “we have extended [that philosophy of caring] to the ports of calls that we call on."

Freed said it’s important to “take good care of the people there and to take care of the ports as well.”  

An Evolution of Guests 

Next up Eva Jenner, vice president, North America sales, Holland America Line, took the stage. “How does Holland America Line help partners grow their businesses?” Ferrara asked.

Speaking to the agents, Jenner pointed to a "great website that was built just for you – GoHAL.com.” She said the site has training courses, not just for agent related sales and marketing, but also for destination immersion.

Short, interactive programs of 15 to 20 minutes can be completed during the agent's coffee break or lunch time. She also mentioned the line’s group program and the benefits of that, noting that all the details are on that website.

Describing the introduction of Koningsdam, launched in 2016, as “a sea change” for the brand, Ferrara asked what’s ahead.

“You probably have noticed there has been a little bit of an evolution of who Holland America is today,” emphasized Jenner. "And it’s great, because we’re still the classic line, and we’re known for our classic ships… mid-sized ships…and the fact that we have these enriching journeys, but we’ve now amped up who Holland America Line is."

How would she describe today's brand? “It’s almost like Holland America Line on steroids,” she told the agents. “So everything we’ve done well, we’re doing it even better. So the Koningsdam is a great ship, but we’ve got another one coming.”

In December of this year, Holland America introduces the Nieuw Statendam, a sister to Koningsdam.

Ferrara asked about the line's social responsibility in its home town of Seattle, WA. "We're proud that we’re Seattle’s home town cruise line,” Jenner noted, and also told the audience that parent Carnival Corporation has a sustainability report that they can download.

In Seattle, Holland America's executives will help serve food at local restaurants and all the money goes to local charities. Onboard, the line has “On Deck for a Cause” in which guests participate in supporting five different cancer charities around the world. 

Establishing a Footprint 

Next up was Joseph Jiffo, senior vice president, sales, MSC Cruises. 

Ferrara asked the obvious question that many agents -- particularly new agents or those just getting into cruise sales -- want to know: “So, who is MSC and why are some of us not so familiar? What should we think of when we think of MSC?”

“Think of us as the fourth largest cruise line in the world, a global company,” said Jiffo, adding that MSC stands for Mediterranean Shipping Company, which is a family owned company.

As for MSC, “I like to say More Ships Coming,” he quipped. “A lot of people don’t realize how big we are and how big we’re growing."

Right now, the contemporary line has 14 ships in the water and is expanding its footprint into North America. "So, it's important for us to be very visible to the travel agent community," said Jiffo.

One little known fact? “We own everything onboard such as our casino, gift shop and [so on], so we’re able to keep the price for the customers at a reasonable [level].”

Calling the MSC Seaside “a huge hit,” Ferrara asked, what’s next? Jiffo said MSC Seaview, a sister ship to MSC Seaside, is coming out in just a few months; it will sail itineraries in Europe.

"But the expansion into North America is what is really important to us," Jiffo told the audience. MSC Seaside currently sails year-round from Miami, and MSC Divina will be coming to North America too for 10- and 11-night Caribbean cruises.

The line also recently announced that the MSC Armonia, built in 2004, will be sailing Cuba cruises from Miami starting in December; those voyages will include an overnight in Havana.

More ships are on the way, too, said Jiffo. MSC is making a $10 billion investment in 11 new ships over the next 10 years. The line will triple its capacity.

He stressed that by 2020, MSC will move from welcoming 2.1 million passengers onboard, as it does now, to serving 4.2 million passengers.

Since social responsibility can be a way to engage customers with a particular brand, Ferrara asked Jiffo about the line’s partnership with Andrea Bocelli. Jiffo explained that his line has joined with the Andrea Bocelli Foundation to help Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, with everything from books to clean water.

“We’re also asking our guests to also be part of it when they come onboard,” said Jiffo, as guests can become involved by donating onboard to the Andrea Bocelli Foundation.

“Nobody’s talking about this guys,” Ferrara said to the agents in the audience, “and your customers, they want to know this. They’ll value it and we’re not talking about it enough.”

Finally, Jiffo was asked about the field sales force and how responsibilities are split for agent contact. Jiffo said the line is building its footprint, and the reps all have a fairly big territory.

That said, he noted that "we call on everyone. It’s so important for us to be in front of all of you, especially in some of the areas we’re not familiar with... the team is very focused on doing face-to-face calls with travel agents.”

Look for Part Two of this two-part series this weekend -- featuring four more cruise executives and their comments in this Cruise360 session -- on www.travelagentcentral.com. 

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