Cruise360: Arnold Donald, Cindy D'Aoust and "The Golden Age of Cruising"

"For those of us here today, how lucky we are to be living in the 'Golden Age of Cruising,'" Arnold Donald, president and CEO, Carnival Corporation, told 1,000 agents attending the first General Session of Cruise360 in Port Everglades, FL, on Thursday. "These are the greatest days perhaps that the industry has ever seen."

"There's a magic to cruising -- an emotional, almost hypnotic connection to the sea, and an excitement," Donald added. "This is an industry built on dreams. No one has to take a cruise."

So why do they? "It's the dream, the dream of cruising to far away places, the dream of experiencing new things, the dream of romance, the dream of bringing a family closer together, the dream of getting away from the ordinary," he said. "And dreams of so much more."

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It's About People

He told the agents that "it is the job of all of us collectively to make those dreams come true." Yes, he said the lines have created fabulous technology, "but it's not about technology. It's about people. This is why your role is so important."

Statistically, the cruise industry will welcome 25.3 million passengers this year alone, an increase of almost one million guests a year for each of the last 10 years. 

CLIA also estimates that in 2015 there were almost one million people employed in some aspect of the industry worldwide -- not just with cruise lines, but in ports, the agency community, shipbuilders, vendors and so on.

Each of the brands of Carnival and the industry as a whole are highly differentiated, Donald noted. "Agents need to help clients discover what their dreams are."

Speaking with humor and good examples, he showed the industry's progression. "It was almost 50 years ago in the Port of Miami when a new cruise line launched the Mardi Gras," he said.

That Carnival Cruise Line ship -- with travel agents and news media onboard for the inaugural voyage -- promptly ran aground on a sandbar. It was stuck there for more than a day. Founder Ted Arison and his son Micky Arison, now the company's chairman, were onboard.

"Ted's dream was to start Carnival, and Micky said they had to pour a lot of free drinks that day, but it worked," said Donald. "There's nothing quite like having a really great true story with a happy ending."

Despite that shaky start, that one-ship line grew into what became Carnival Corporation, the world's largest leisure travel company, with 10 cruise brands. 

"The Arisons first saw potential of bringing cruising to the ordinary traveler," said Donald. From one ship stranded on a sandbar decades ago, the company has grown its fleet to 100 ships. It also cruises to 700 ports and has 120,000 employees worldwide.

Today, because Carnival Corporation is so large, it can invest in innovation. Arnold cited Ocean Medallion, its state-of-the-art wearable technology platform launching on Princess Cruises later this year

"It also allows us to build new markets, as we're doing for China with Majestic Princess," he said. In addition, the company is building other new ships; has opened a state-of-the-art maritime training complex; created such new destinations as Amber Cove in the Caribbean; and reopened some "not so new destinations" as it did last year in Cuba. Many new ships will also run on LNG (liquified natural gas).  

He also said the industry, including Carnival's brands, are developing new travel agent tools to help agents convey the character of a brand. The goal is to help agents match the right brand to the right client and to that client's dreams.  

Skewing Younger 

A recent CLIA study of both cruisers and non-cruisers showed that, contrary to stereotypes about cruising, more Generation Xers are engaging in cruise travel more than ever before. "This new generation, the Gen Xers, chose a cruise overwhelmingly as their favorite type of vacation," stressed Donald.   

They like that it's an active vacation and they can see new destinations. The majority said, "they will definitely take another cruise," he said. Even among those who have never cruised, many described a cruise as the best kind of vacation -- "meaning there is probably hope for them yet," he said.  

From the industry perspective, "we've been working on that 'new to cruise' segment" and in unexpected ways, Donald said, noting that the industry has tried to get these people "dreaming about taking a cruise, even if they have never considered it before -- getting them comfortable, showing them what to expect and showing them how much fun it can be."

Carnival Corporation is doing that through new network television programming it's sponsoring. Arnold cited "Ocean Treks" with Jeff Corwin on ABC, "Vacation Creation" on the CW Network, "Voyager" with Josh Garcia on NBC and, the latest, "Good Spirits" with cocktail chef Matthew Biancaniello on A&E.

"They help plant the seeds of possibility -- hopefully, starting that dream in the minds of our future guests," he said.

"There has never been a better time to cruise than right now," he said. But while the industry's goal is to exceed guest expectations, Donald told the agents: "It's also to exceed yours."

Growth in Cruising

Last year, more than 24.6 million ocean passengers sailed and, of those, 10 million embarked from U.S. ports, said Cindy D’Aoust, president and CEO, of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Global, during the same General Session. 

“Of those 10 million, 55 percent of those embarked from one of Florida’s five ports,” D’Aoust said. “Pretty impressive, right?”

She told the travel advisors that as they attend Cruise360, which is back at Port Everglades after being in Vancouver, BC, last year, that “you’re right here in the heart of whatever happens.”

Photo by Susan J Young

Agents' attendance at the show shows a “commitment to the industry and a commitment to yourself," she said, noting that agents are part of an industry that has seen its demand increase by 62 percent in the past 10 years. 

“Over the next 10 years, we'll be adding over 200,000 new passenger berths to our fleet,” she said, noting that 26 new ships will be introduced in 2017.

"Our industry has evolved and will continue to evolve and so does your role," she told the agent group. “Being a travel agent has always been so much more than simply booking a trip and delivering tickets to your clients."

She said the industry’s collective success depends on agents, as with more than 60 cruise line brands, myriad itineraries and port destinations, plus differences in ship designs, “it is so critical that you simplify the selection process for your clients."

As cruise lines innovate and add new choices, that gives agents the opportunity to demonstrate their expertise in matching travel desires with the right cruise options. And that, said D'Aoust, will assure cruising satisfaction and repeat customers. 

Whatever type of cruising the agent may specialize in, sizable knowledge is needed, and "that's why we're here and we're going to help you," she noted, mentioning certification and the chance to hear from expert industry speakers.

"Last year on this stage, Adam Goldstein reminded us that it was important to build a plan for our customers," D'Aoust said. "But it's even more important that we create a road map of success for ourselves."

Speaking of a road map for success, D'Aoust, whose now been in her CLIA post for two years, pledged that she personally is pledging to complete the educational components to become certified as an Associate Cruise Counselor (ACC)

In his closing remarks, Donald added these thoughts: "In these days of political uncertainty, cruising brings us all together," he said. "I believe travel is the anecdote to ignorance...the more people cruise and see the world first-hand, the more they understand each other and they become more empathic." 

People discover what's common among them" and can understand their differences. "Ultimately, the world becomes a better and safer place," he stressed.