“We catapulted through the year at a rapid pace, exceeding everyone’s expectations,” Wall told 823 agency franchise owners, independent hosted agents, partners, press and staff attending the two groups’ annual conference onboard Norwegian Epic this week. He also quipped that “Us being here is epic,” noting that the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. group is the largest ever to sail on Epic.
Themed as “2010 Engage,” the conference kicked off Saturday as the ship sailed from the Port of Miami. Fittingly, a small plane flew by the ship several times and pulled a banner that read “Norwegian Epic welcomes CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.”
At a welcome cocktail reception on Saturday night in Spice H20, agents enjoyed social conversation, mingled with suppliers; watched photos of last year’s trade conference on the venue’s massive screen; and chuckled as executives from both NCL and CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. got “slimed” Nickelodeon-style.
But, then the conference got down to business on Sunday morning at the first official business session. Wall told the group “how lucky we are to be in the industry as it changes and evolves.”
He cited his organization’s corporate accomplishments over the past year, including a call-out campaign” for business development, enhanced training options, new Cruise Control forms, new consumer web sites with dynamic hot deals, a new group manual, more robust e-mail lists, enhanced public relations activities and a new shore excursion partner, the Shore Excursions Group.
By video, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. also gave agents in the audience a tour of the two organizations’ new corporate headquarters building in Fort Lauderdale, which includes a state-of-the-art training center and production studio. “This new facility shows yet again that World Travel Holdings is willing to invest in this division and that they believe in you,” Wall said.
Co-founded by Brad and Jeff Tolkin in 2005, World Travel Holdings (WTH) is a multi-brand travel distributor that owns CruiseOne, Cruises Inc., Rooms.com and Villas of Distinction. Since its inception, it’s grown by acquiring Cruise411.com, and National Leisure Group (NLG).
Founded in 1992, Wall said CruiseOne has added 139 new franchise locations in 2010 for a total of more 700 franchise owners. Founded in 1982, Cruises Inc., the travel industry’s original host agency, has added 135 new independent contractors this year for more than 600 total.
A Futuristic Look
In another segment during the opening session, Andy Stuart, Norwegian Cruise Line’s, executive vice president of global sales and passenger services, took the stage and did a quirky -- yet highly engaging -- PowerPoint presentation about worldwide trends, the rise of technology, social media and mobile marketing, industry initiatives and the tools of engagement.
The audience chuckled as he talked about a new on-demand flattery service that will call up people and flatter them by phone about their achievements. One new technology development allows a clip-on, over-the-ear video camera that records continuously. And, Stuart noted that one supplier is now doing “Group Holidays for Mourners,” helping those who have lost a loved one to rediscover joy by traveling together.
Among the whacky trends, he said, was a caloric value that could be stamped on sections of a chocolate bar, so people would know how much they were consuming. He said that in five years television will be unrecognizable, as technology will meld television-style content, social networking, music and other techno options into robust on-demand content.
To show agents how much technology and new social applications have permeated everyday life – and specifically that of potential clients -- he told the groups that Farmville on Facebook has 56 million active players. That’s more than watch the Oprah Winfrey Show. In addition, he said five of the top 10 web sites in the world are now focused on social networking.
As for the Internet itself, Stuart threw out a statistic that he says keeps increasing every time he does a presentation – 77 percent of people now use the Internet regularly. Twelve percent of Facebook users go online every day. “This is important because it is becoming a part of everybody’s life,” Stuart said.
Social networking is perfect for creative agents who can tap into the emotional draw of travel, he noted. He said it’s imperative for agents to have a SmartPhone (either an iPhone, Android or Blackberry) with a camera, and preferably video. He urged agents to get on the social networking sites, and for example, on Facebook to create a fan page for yourself, create groups, and think viral.
Stuart said that the industry as a whole provides a slew of web-based training options to help agents learn the skills needed to sell to today’s clients. “We’re no longer in a world of sales people,” Stuart stressed. “We’re in a world where you have to engage people.”
Also speaking for NCL, Camille Olivere, the line's vice president of sales, told the audience that the fastest growing trade segment is that of the home-based agent. “We get it," she said. "You guys are our future.”
Olivere said the hottest itineraries for NCL right now -- in terms of selling from the trade -- are Bermuda, the Caribbean from Miami and the Caribbean from New York. She believes that, in 2011, NCL will also have several new hot sellers – the Caribbean from Tampa, the Caribbean from Port Canaveral and Epic in Europe. Olivere also announced several incentives exclusive to CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.
… Stay tuned. Part 2 of our editorial coverage of the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. conference will cover the Cruise Executive Panel Discussion with the agents onboard Norwegian Epic.