Enrichment Creates Opportunity But Would Earlier Notice Help?


Ships sail to exotic locales, such as Silversea's Silver Spirit seen here in the harbor of Bequia in the Caribbean. But cruise lines also entice customers with enriching onboard programs -- such as Silversea's bridge themed cruises. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Enrichment is a popular buzzword used by most cruise lines to describe specialty onboard programs that are educational, eco-focused or feature specialists in a particular field. What trends are the trade seeing?

Wine and culinary have certainly become offerings throughout the industry, according to Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales, Avoya Travel / American Express Travel Representative. Lines, big and small are promoting these interests. Even niche lines are enhancing their culinary focus.

For example, cruisers booking the August 15 voyage of Le Lyrial, Ponant’s newest ship, will hear from Alain Passard of L’Arpege in Paris, a three-star Michelin chef who specializes in “enhancing” vegetables, and Stephanie Le Quellec, the one-star Michelin chef of La Scene in Paris and winner of Top Chef 2011. Two of the world’s most highly rated sommeliers, Philippe Faure-Brac and Paolo Basso, will also mix and mingle with guests on this voyage from Athens to Venice.

“Having a culinary class will appeal to large numbers [of people], and so there are many cruise lines that have added that experience because it is a broad-based interest,” says Koepf. But he adds that a cruise line providing a lecture series less broad-based – for example, about knitting – may have a smaller audience.

Yet that’s the draw – as clients with that interest will make their way to that cruise. One thing that's helping? "The cruise lines are doing a much better job with keeping the agents informed via webinars and online chats," says Michael Sinn, franchise owner, CruiseOne, Seattle, WA. That's helpful with so many offerings to track and promote.

For example, Silversea Cruises offers Silversea Bridge Sailings, formal program of contract and duplicate bridge sessions (twice daily on sea days), on six cruises this year. Certified ACBL (American Contract Bridge League) Life Masters oversee games, with the chance for guests to earn ACBL Master Points. Bridge fans can sail both for the play and for the lectures designed for both beginner and intermediate-level players. 

Those focused on international politics might check out the “Global Perspectives” program onboard Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic. Colombia’s former president, Cesar Gaviria is a strong advocate for democracy, regional integration and human rights. He returns to the National Geographic Explorer on its "Coastal Treasures" departure on Sept. 27; he'll welcome guests to Colombia and to introduce them to Latin America’s economic and political climate.

An audio art tour enriches the guest experience on Oceania's Marina and Riviera. // Photo by Susan J. Young

In contract, astronomy is a focus of the Voyages to Discovery’s 14-day “Canary Islands & Caribbean Constellation” transatlantic cruise on Nov. 10. This Voyager sailing from Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands to Bridgetown, Barbados, will feature lectures by Professor David Hughes. He’s the author of “The Star of Bethlehem” and has appeared on the BBC as an astronomy expert.

And for art lovers? It's not just about art lecturers or painting at sea. In some cases product and enrichment overlap. Oceania Cruises has introduced a new Art Collection Audio Tour on Marina and Riviera. 

The art tour is narrated by Frank Del Rio, Oceania Cruises' founder and now chairman and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), and Bob Binder, also an Oceania co-founder and now NCLH's president of international operations. They offer stories and descriptions behind many of the original works of art adorning these two ships.

Some enrichment topics are non-typical and designed to appeal to loyal past guests. Crystal Cruises is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with special celebrations featuring Crystal’s leadership from the past and present. Both ships will include “Captain Cruises” offering the chance to converse with former Crystal Cruises captains who will join Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity again to regale travelers with their Crystal memories. 

For example, on December 19, the line’s “Caribbean / Brazilian Holiday” cruise from San Juan to Rio de Janeiro will feature Captain John Okland, who retired in 2012 after 15 years with the cruise line.

Other lines are tapping into popular culture, such as Holland America Line with its “Dancing with the Stars” program, which will be back onboard all 15 ships in the fleet this year; it includes dance lessons and a chance for lucky guests to dance center stage in an exciting show. 

In addition, six special themed cruises will give passengers a chance to meet several star dancers from the TV show, ask questions and take photos. Guests will also enjoy a special production starring those dance pros.

Advice for the lines on getting more clients onboard through enrichment? Koepf would like to see enrichment options announced and promoted further out to assist agents in getting the word out to clients:  “In most cases, the enrichment programs aren't as widely communicated as far in advance to get the full sales advantage."

"When cruise lines ask for help the agents respond," Sinn notes, although he'd like to see the agents' robust efforts to get clients onto some of these special enrichment offerings backed up with some additional commission. 

That aside, what other developments are planned for enrichment this year?  Stay tuned for our Feb. 23 edition of Travel Agent magazine for an extensive look at other lines' enrichrment options for 2015 and beyond.