Cruise360: Exec Panel Debates Innovation, Technology and "The Experience"

Touches of humor and insight by top cruise executives characterized the Presidents’ Panel discussion during Cruise360's first General Session on Thursday at Port Everglades, FL.

Fielding questions to cruise presidents in a freewheeling discussion was Drew Daly, general manager, network engagement and performance, World Travel Holdings, parent of the CruiseOne, Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. brands. 

Participating were Christine Duffy of Carnival Cruise Line, Roberto Fusaro of MSC Cruises USA, Larry Pimentel of Azamara Club Cruises and Andy Stuart of Norwegian Cruise Line

Photo by Drew Daly, World Travel Holdings

Daly asked the quartet: “What one word comes to mind for your brand when you hear the term innovative? 

  • “Listen,” said Duffy. “It really is all about exceeding our guest expectations, and your expectations as our travel agent partners, and I think the first thing we have to do is listen." She said Adolfo Perez, vice president of sales and trade marketing, and his team are just hitting the road to visit six cities May 11-18 as part of an “Agentpalooza” bus tour in one-on-one meeting with agents. 
  • “Transcendent,” said Fusaro, mentioning both technology and innovation and what the combination of those can bring the industry and agents who sell the product. “Technology will allow us to customize the guest experience even more,” he said, noting it will give guests more freedom, and allow the ship's crew to recognize the guest with facial recognition and provide better service. 
  • "Destination,” said Pimentel, noting that “what we’ve specialized in, what we’ve enticed guests with -- and it’s based entirely on research -- is trying to deliver the destination and the culture.” With the “Cruise Global, Connect Local” program, Azamara gives guests an opportunity to travel the world, but also to stay late/overnight in ports or at special events. Guests have bucket lists and they also want to delve into local music, food, drink and culture. 

Shore-side, in Oman, Pimentel gave the example of an overnight port visit. Guests can book a night-time excursion into the Bedouin community. “People pay a third of their cruise cost for that experience and it sells out every time,” he said. They want to immerse themselves in the destination and culture. 

  • “Racetrack” and, going hand in hand with that, “Ferrari,” said Stuart, in reference to Norwegian Cruise Line’s new partnership with Scuderia Ferrari Watches. Norwegian Joy, the line's first purpose-built ship for the Chinese market, will have a Ferrari-branded competitive racetrack. “An unexpected view of a racetrack is something that is going to have people scratching their heads,” he said, and that gets people thinking about cruising in an unexpected, different and unusual way. 

Technology and Innovation

Daly asked how technology and innovation would enhance the cruising experience -- more so than in the past.

Technology helps deliver freedom and flexibility, according to Stuart, while technology gives the guest more time to actually personalize their cruise experience, so they can simply relax and enjoy the cruise, said Fusaro.  

"Technology is about how we personalize the experience, so that what you receive is actually important to you as opposed to the shotgun approach…being very targeted and very personalized," said Duffy. And it’s a way to articulate the experience, says Pimentel: “Technology helps you do that.” 

Which social media platform works best to best articulate the cruise experience, asked Daly?

Fusaro said they all work very well, but “Facebook is where people go to talk about their vacation and to put pictures up.” Stuart also agreed that “it’s really Facebook.”

Pimentel said his line is the smallest cruise line in deep water, yet 34,000 people he doesn’t know are the line’s friends on Facebook. “It’s about quality content and the knowledge you have,” he said.

Another reason for agents to use social media? Pimentel stressed: “It’s also a way of marketing that is cost effective for the little guy to jump in and make yourself appear big by giving them valuable content." 

He said Twitter and Pinterest were also very effective. But whatever it is, the most important thing is to “just pick one and then tie the content back to your hash-tags or website," said Pimentel. "Let your social media audience know what you're doing, but above all, give something useful to them. 

Yes, “all platforms are a great way to engage, but what’s really important is to make it authentic,” said Duffy. 

It’s not all about deals and onboard credits either. “People in travel who are using digital and social media are more interested in having you interpret what are the best bars in London, then in hearing that they can have a discount of [a certain amount]," said Pimentel. "It’s about content and enriching the potential traveler’s experience and knowledge.

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