Expert Tips on Booking First-Time Cruisers

The Humidor Cigar Lounge on the Norwegian Escape might appeal to a group of cigar aficionados planning a cruise.
The Humidor Cigar Lounge on the Norwegian Escape might appeal to a group of cigar aficionados planning a cruise.

As the last quarter of the year progresses, travel agencies are dusting off and sprucing up their business and marketing plans for 2016. Here’s a look at three major new developments to help broaden your client base or draw first-time cruisers. 

Grab a New Affinity Group: Affinity groups are helpful to agents because they draw people who wish to travel with a group for a specific theme or personal interest. A cruise is not always the prime reason to book, the “interest” is, but once people do cruise, they often repeat.   

A new Affinity Groups Program has been launched by Norwegian Cruise Line. It’s designed with increased flexibility and guaranteed group amenities that allow agents to very specifically customize inclusions. It also provides an attractive tour conductor program. It’s effective for bookings December 1 or thereafter for sailings January 1 and beyond. “We have designed a product to customize a cruise for every affinity group and create the most attractive package available for group cruisers,” says Nathan Hickman, Norwegian’s VP of field sales. Agents will discover three customizable, guaranteed amenity options for groups of seven to 199 staterooms.

Agents with groups can choose from: two complimentary berths for every 14 paid guests; one complimentary berth for every 14 paid guests, plus the choice of an Ultimate Beverage Package or pre-paid service charges for the first and second guest in each stateroom; or one complimentary berth for every 14 paid guests, plus two choices from the following options per stateroom: 250-minute Internet package; $50 Per Port Shore Excursion Credit; a 20-image photo package; $75 onboard credit; $75 fundraiser credit; $75 bonus commission; group cocktail party; or up to a four-day specialty dining package. For details, contact your local Norwegian Cruise Line BDM or visit www.norwegiancentral.com.

Ride the Millennial Wave: Agents might hop onboard the promotional bandwagon Royal Caribbean International has just launched and which will continue into Wave Season and throughout the new year. The new multimillion-dollar branding campaign, “Come Seek,” is designed to do what “Get Out There” did for agents in corralling consumers.

The new campaign focuses on attracting adventure seekers, particularly Millennials, who typically don’t want neither a standard cruise nor a traditional vacation, but seek culturally rich, authentic experiences. “Seekers” are introduced to destinations via experiential excursions, such as an Ocean Racing Experience in Antigua, which matches two guest teams of six each with professional yachters in head-to-head competition, and a Mountain Top Downhill Trek through historic plantation ruins in St. Maarten.

Jim Berra, the line’s chief marketing officer, says the spots are designed “to create some noise — to disrupt the marketplace” and to help the line [and thus agents who sell the product] stand out in a marketplace of information overload. “Come Seek” encompasses online, outdoor and broadcast advertising integrated with public relations, social media and direct marketing.

For example, consumers will see streaming video on the Periscope social channel and unusual five-second and 30-second commercials on late-night TV shows and news programs as well as NBC’s “The Voice.” Royal Caribbean International is also turning to its crew members to help leverage “authentic” visual impact. Using Tumblr, crew will broadcast first-person videos and visuals they create onboard or ashore. The line said this might expand to agents and cruisers, who would also post content to share with the public.

“Since they are trying to reach a younger segment of the market, they are doing a combination of traditional media such as TV, radio and online, while testing out other forms of media distribution in select markets such as Go-Pro live streaming from the Caribbean,” says Michelle Fee, co-founder and CEO, Cruise Planners.

“The live streaming videos are an industry first and will air real people who are experiencing different Caribbean adventures in the islands such as zip lining, kayaking and more to attract the experiential consumer to cruising on Royal,” Fee notes. (For a look at the campaign spots, click here.)

Royal Caribbean’s branding campaign, “Come Seek,” focuses on attracting adventure seekers.
Royal Caribbean’s branding campaign, “Come Seek,” focuses on attracting adventure seekers.

Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean’s senior VP of sales, trade support and service, has briefed trade partners, renamed the line’s sales calls “seeker sessions,” and pledged tools and resources for agents at www.cruisingpower.com: “Any campaign cannot be a success without our travel partners.”

Promote Short Cruises From Mobile, AL: For agents in the central and southern U.S., the return of cruises from the Port of Mobile are a reason to shout, particularly in their efforts to draw first timers. That’s because the 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy will begin operating four- and five-day cruises to Mexico from the southern Alabama port from November 2016 through November 2017.

These cruises are short and affordable, so people who aren’t sure about cruising can give the vacation model a try. The four-day option, priced from $259 per person double, sails to Cozumel; the five-day voyage starts at $269 with calls at Cozumel and Costa Maya or Progreso.

Carnival Fantasy’s cruises from Mobile provide consumers with an affordable way to visit [Mexico] from a convenient homeport while offering our valued travel agent partners an exciting new short vacation option to market to their clients,” says Christine Duffy, Carnival’s president.

The ship will receive a multimillion-dollar dry dock update before beginning the Mobile cruises. Carnival Fantasy will gain several Fun Ship 2.0 enhancements, including Guy’s Burger Joint, developed in tandem with Food Network star Guy Fieri, two poolside bars and the Blue Iguana Cantina Mexican-themed eatery.

MSC Voyagers Club, the new loyalty program of MSC Cruises, provides increased benefits to members.
MSC Voyagers Club, the new loyalty program of MSC Cruises, provides increased benefits to members.

More First-Timer Magnets

Savory Vegetarian/Vegan Dishes: For potential first-timers who are concerned they won’t be able to follow their vegetarian/vegan regimen at sea, cruise lines often have surprising options. New this fall, Costa Cruises has introduced special regional menus featuring dishes based mainly on food derived from plants, and for vegans, the new dishes exclude dairy products and eggs.

USE “THE FORCE”: Sometimes it takes a themed hook to entice consumers to book their first cruise. On multiple dates between January and April 2016, Disney Cruise Line offers a weeklong Disney Fantasy cruise from Port Canaveral, FL, with a “Star Wars Day at Sea.”

New Welcome Loyalty Perks: MSC Voyagers Club, the new loyalty program of MSC Cruises, provides increased benefits to members. Joining is free, and guests can now join a “Welcome Level” before taking their first cruise; all that’s needed is a confirmed booking.

Social Impact Cruising: Some people just aren’t interested in a cruise, at least a traditional one. Fathom, Carnival Corp.’s new brand, is likely to score with first-timers and Millennials eager to “give back” via social impact travel to the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

Read more on