Dispatch From Cruise3Sixty 2012: News, Gleanings and Intel


Left to right, Kevin Sheehan, CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Andy Stuart, executive vice president, Global Sales and Passenger Services. // All photos by Susan J. Young

Going to cruise3sixty is often a frenetic experience for agents. Many attend all the sessions, fit in as much training as possible, inspect cruise ships from top to bottom, an do everything to get the most of the conference experience.

To help agents who attended sift through the myriad news, tips, gleanings and intel from cruise3sixty, and to help those who didn’t attend, get a sense of the information flow, Travel Agent provides this sampling of tidbits and opinions from the show.

Travel Agents DO Power Room Nights: “You are responsible for 150,000 travel-agent commissionable room nights to the destination related to pre- and post-cruise business this past year,” Nicki Grossman, president and CEO, Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the agent audience in Friday’s General Session.

“We love cruisers, and we love cruise agents,” she stressed – telling agents to go to the travel agent section of www.sunny.org to see cruising information and commissionable offers for agents booking two-night stays in conjunction with a cruise from Port Everglades.

On the Road Again: Look for Royal Caribbean International (www.cruisingpower.com) to go on the road again with its travel agent shows. Typically several hundred agents attend and learn about the line’s cruise product, sales and marketing best practices, and how to effectively brand their agency. 

Attendance is by invitation only. Here’s the eight-city schedule: Atlanta, May 15; Tampa, May 17; San Francisco, June 17; Los Angeles, July 19; New York, Aug. 7; Philadelphia, Aug. 9; Dallas, Sept. 11; and Boston, Sept. 20.

Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of sales, spoke at a Friday press conference, giving reporters an update on the Royal Advantage program. She said Liberty of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas, Splendor of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas were removed from service, sent to drydock and have emerged with new features that are keeping the product fresh.

“Now our best ship is every ship,” said Freed, noting that Mariner of the Seas will get the Royal Advantage on May 2, and Grandeur of the Seas on June 1. “It means they [agents] can sell us with confidence,” Freed stressed, noting that sometimes in the industry cruise lines take delivery of an amazing new ship and then “forget the rest of the children.”

She said Royal Caribbean believes “all our children [ships] are important.” Clearly, the line also thinks clients’ kids are as well. “The family market is very important to us,” Freed emphasized, revealing that 55,000 children under the age of three sailed on the line last year. So its ships are getting new Royal Babies and Tots Nurseries as part of the Royal Advantage program.

Takeaways for the Trade: Sometimes agents wonder if it's really worth it to attend a conference. Walter Kuriger, president and CEO of Oceanic Getaways, (www.oceanicgetaways.com), a Cruise Planners agency from Lewis Center, a suburb of Columbus, OH, says "yes" and cites several personal benefits from cruise3sixty.

First, he benefitted from networking with his fellow agents, gaining insight and ideas. Second, he loved the personalized attention he received from the cruise lines during the peer2pier sessions.

“Disney Cruise Line gave me specific marketing ideas that I will implement upon my return home,” he said. “I have no doubt that this idea will help grow my business.”

Third, Kuriger says he learned that the cruise lines are solidly committed to the travel agent community: “They need us, especially in today's market."

European Travel, a Mixed Message: While agents continued to bemoan high priced air tickets for European travel, suppliers emphasized opportunities and trends. “From my business perspective, agents were excited about the entire inventory that will be in Europe in the coming year,” said Kier Matthews, vice president of sales, Europe Express (www.europeexpress.com), a member of the TUI Travel Group.

“I’m confident Europe will continue to grow year over year,” Matthews emphasized. "Despite those who think it will be soft due to air fare, I think cruising and FIT in Europe will be up next year as FIT is up with us 42 percent year over year.” That said, he added: “I think the escorted market will continue to be soft in the coming years based on the changing demographics of those with the income to travel to Europe.”

Royal Caribbean’s Freed acknowledged that consumers say it's tough to find affordable airfare to Europe. So the line is launching a new value-added European promotion, running May 1 to May 11. Clients who book any seven-night balcony cruise originating in Europe will receive all gratuities pre-paid by the line. Fares start at just $699 per person double.

Where the Clients’ Interests Are: Just as the host cruise3sixty destination of Greater Fort Lauderdale was once the setting for “Where the Boys Are,” agents say global rivers and U.S. home ports are definitely “where the clients’ interests are” right now.

Chris Grum, president of Premier Custom Travel (www.premiercustomtravel.com), Sugar Land, TX, says “the future of cruising looks great with river cruising experiencing great growth.” In addition, his business is trending way ahead of 2011 with lots of interest in the new ships coming to Texas.

From the river side, Patrick Clark, president and managing director, Avalon Waterways (www.avalonwaterways.com) says his firm is seeing 25 percent more river cruise passengers this year than last in Europe, that the Galapagos is up quite well, China is marginally up, and Egypt is depressed, but he’s seeing even that come back. 

Incidentally, he says that 82 percent of the line’s river clients are former ocean cruisers. “Despite the headwinds we all face in travel – high airfare, economic undertainty, unemployment around the world – the travel agent focused on river cruising as a travel style is doing very well," Clark said.

Van Anderson, co-president, Avoya Travel/American Express (www.avoyatravel.com) also told us that “river cruises are hot; sales are off the chart.”

Australia Here We Come, AquaPark Thrills: When asked during a press conference about whether Norwegian Cruise Line (www.ncl.com) would be positioning a ship in Australia market, Norwegian CEO Kevin Sheehan let the cat out of the bag, saying the line likely will move a ship into that market and then telling the press group sheepishly, “I probably shouldn’t have said that.”

But clearly, Norwegian is interested in the market. While Sheehan didn’t reveal specifics or timing, he did tell the Australian journalist: “It’s time we get over there, to be honest.”

Sheehan’s big news of the day, though, was about the line’s creative plan for a humongous, three-story sports complex on the new Norwegian Breakaway, launching in 2013. Clients will encounter an Aqua Park with five multi-story water slides; two will be Free Fall plunge slides, designed for thrill seekers, as the floor simply falls away from guests who are propelled by gravity into the water below. 

Also, Norwegian Breakaway will have a nine-hole miniature golf course, and a 40-element ropes course with The Plank, which extends over the side of the ship. Agents can read about all the new razzle-dazzle ship features in the line’s press release here.


Michelle Fee, CEO, Cruise Planners on the left and Vicky Garcia, Executive VP, Sales & Marketing at Cruise Planners.

Cruisitude Revolution: Cruise Planners (www.cruiseplanners.com) is taking “Cruisitude” - its agent-friendly approach to training, sales, marketing, agent support, professional development and business partnerships - to a heightened new level called "Cruisitude Revolution," according to Michelle Fee, the organization’s CEO.

She said her firm has re-launched the Cruisitude agent campaign with five pillars – create cool stuff, make money, have fun, deliver great service and the change the world. 

At a press conference at cruise3sixty, Cruise Planners also announced its new partnership with Imagine Weddings and Events (www.ImagineVIP.com), an international full-service wedding and event company. The two firms have created Destination Weddings by Cruise Planners, a wedding planning service for shore side ceremonies and celebrations in ports across the globe.

Agents definitely won’t have to plan their clients’ wedding, Fee said. They’ll simply plan the travel and let the partner firm handle the wedding planning. Agents can be as involved as they want, or not at all.

The partnership will start with the wedding planning service being offered in these U.S. destinations: Hawaii, Key West, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, New Orleans, Port Canaveral and Tampa.

In addition, in the Caribbean/Atlantic region, the wedding group will offer clients options in Antiqua, Barbados, Bermuda, Nassau, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, St. Kitts/St. Lucia, St. Thomas, St. John, St. Martin and San Juan. Other destinations are offered worldwide as well.

Two basic wedding packages will be offered. A “Just the Two of Us” package starts at $995 and an “Ultimate Romance” package at $2,995. However, Fee said the client can work with Imagine Weddings and Events to customize more elaborate arrangements as well.

In other news, Cruise Planners is helping its agents develop a Facebook presence. More than 620 Cruise Planners business fan pages are now up and running with 355,000 fans. In addition, the organization has introduced 425 new features or enhancements to its agent website.

Over-Promise and Over-Deliver: Agents have always been told to “under-promise” and “over-deliver.” But to really succeed in today’s marketplace, travel advisors need to both “over-promise” and “over-deliver,” emphasizes Rick Barrera, owner of Rick Barrera & Associates (www.barrera.com), a motivational speaker who talked to the agency group at the Saturday General Session.

He cited both American Girl and Apple as great companies that successfully over-promise by telling customers what to expect from their service, how their brands are different, and why customers should buy or choose you.

“What is your over-promise and how well does it differentiate your from your competitors?” he asked the agent audience.

Barrera's favorite example is Federal Express, a firm he says that doesn't just promote that it ships stuff.

“Everybody ships stuff,” stressed Berrara. Instead FedEx says, “when it absolutely positively has to be there overnight… when your career, when your job, when your contract is on the line, give it to me…[it’s there] overnight,” according to Berrara.

He showed the audience that FedEx uses an airplane as its corporate brand symbol, while competitor UPS uses branding focused on brown trucks. While UPS is also a major air freight company with plenty of planes, “which are you going to use when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” he asked the audience?

Berrara showed visual symbolism from both companies and asked the audience: “Would you give it to the guy with the truck, or to the guy with the plane?”

New Digs and Port Features: While Port Everglades (www.porteverglades.net/cruising) is the second largest home port in the world, “being the biggest isn’t our only goal,” says Steve Cernak, the port’s new chief executive/director. Providing great service to cruisers is also important.

Port Everglades is currently renovating four cruise terminals. Cernak said that’s happening this summer and fall, and will continue over the next 18 months. The port is also working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to introduce Global Entry kiosks at the cruise terminals.

Better Sales Trajectory, New Web Sites: The first 13 days of the year were robust for sales and then Costa Concordia happened.

“Since then it’s been somewhat challenging,” said Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager, CruiseOne (www.cruiseonefranchise.com)  and Cruises Inc. (www.sellcruises.com).

“But beginning in March we started to see things take a better trajectory and in April we began to see that trajectory take off.” He remains optimistic about this year’s sales performance.

His organizations are helping their agents create more business via new training options. CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. revamped regional training in 2011; agents who attended posted a 15 percent increase in sales.

Where are new agents coming from? One option? “There has never been a better time than now to support our veterans who are coming home; so many are finding it tough to get into the job market.” He says hiring veterans is an opportunity for the industry, as veterans are smart, skilled and energized.

It's also a way to get young people into the agency ranks. “They will help us get better at what we do,” Wall said.

Previously, CruiseOne ran a “Second Chance at Success” program that gave away a free franchise to an out-of-work educator. This year, “we may have a similar campaign with a different audience,” Wall explained, without revealing the nature of the target audience. “Be on the look-out for that.”

Wall also announced that CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. are rolling out another onboard credit promotion; it’s fully funded for agents by the headquarters organization. Customers who book European cruises will get an additional onboard credit on top of the onboard credit that’s currently offered, amounting to up to $226.

Wall also introduced Rosemarie Reed, just tapped as the two agency groups’ director of marketing. She unveiled a sneek peak at the new websites for both brands. They’re slated to go “live” on June 1.

Mississippi River Sailings: American Cruise Lines (www.americancruiselines.com) says the Mississippi River bookings for its new 150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi paddlewheeler have taken off, and that there is very limited availability for the new ship that begins cruising later this summer. 

When asked where the line’s second, new 165-passenger paddlewheeler will sail, Susan Shultz, the line’s director of sales, said she was unable to say but did emphasize to reporters: “I can say that 2013 sales on the Mississippi are just incredible.”

The line will introduce a new agent portal for its website this summer.

New Cruisers Seek Upscale Pampering: In the past, most new cruisers booked their voyage on a contemporary line to see if they liked cruising. Few entered at the upper echelon of the marketplace. That’s changing as better cruise line differentiation helps the customer fit a cruise to their personal travel style and taste.

Edie Bornstein, senior vice president of sales, Azamara Club Cruises (www.azamaraclubcruises.com) told reporters at a press conference on Friday afternoon that 22 percent of her line’s guests have never cruised before. So, the upper premium line is attracting a very high percentage of first timers.

Why? She believes the line differentiates itself as destination intensive, offers many overnights and late nights in ports, and has fares priced 15 percent lower than its six top competitors.

As for the line’s two ships, Azamara Quest and Azamara Journey, Bornstein says, “the plan is to update both vessels the end of this year or early next.” Details will be released later in the summer. 

As for Azamara Quest, the ship that experienced an engine room fire off the coast of Borneo recently, Bornstein said the ship was repaired in Singapore and is now back sailing.

Raising the Bar: Travel Agent talked to Avoya’s Anderson as well as Scott Koepf, vice president of sales for Avoya Travel/American Express, about one of the prime "buzz" topics of the conference – CLIA's decision to help shepherd a more cohesive industry effort to champion the value of agents, elevate the profession and showcase the agency community's economic value to the nation’s economy.

(Agents can click here to read that separate story, which also includes comments from ASTA, the US Travel Association, and Visit Florida).

So what’s Avoya's take on the subject? “We applaud the efforts to increase the level of professionalism – to raise the bar,” said Anderson. “Everything we can do as an industry to be proactive in educating the public [is optimal].”

Koepf was pleasantly surprised to see ASTA and CLIA  on the same panel and cooperating to promote the value of agents, and that he wished it had happened sooner.

On the statistics side, Anderson told Travel Agent that last year was Avoya’s best year ever, and this year’s first quarter was also the best ever sales-wise. “It demonstrates the strength of our network… and that our model is working,” Anderson said. 

He said the group’s independent affiliates also had their best ever year in 2011, with some up by double-digit figures.

Poetic Words of Parting: “Just as the stars and planets are aligning in space for 2012, I felt the same way attending cruise3sixty 2012 as there were so many new fresh, energetic faces and many executives had re-aligned with other cruise lines,” said Dana McPherson, president, Luxtastic (www.luxtasticcruises.com), Atlanta, GA.

McPherson’s view: “Change can be good and I see a lot of positive changes that will propel the industry into infinity and beyond.” 

Stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com this week for more coverage of cruise3sixty, including several executive panel discussions.