|From left to right: Gerald R. Cahill, president & CEO, Carnival Cruise Lines; Adam M. Goldstein, president & CEO, Royal Caribbean International; Daniel J. Hanrahan, president & CEO, Celebrity Cruises; Christine Duffy, president, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA); Moderator Stein Kruse, president & CEO, Holland America Line, Inc; Kevin Sheehan, president & CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line; Pierfrancesco Vago, CEO, MSC Cruises // Photo by Andy Newman|
While safety, security and the environment were hot topics at the annual State of the Industry program at Cruise Shipping Miami on Tuesday, cruise executives also praised the value of travel agents – specifically pointing out their role as respected third parties during the challenging times post-Costa Concordia.
Christine Duffy, president and CEO, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said she wanted to give a lot of credit to the travel agency community, noting that travel agents fielded lots and lots of calls and answered numerous questions about issues of safety and security on cruise ships.
She asked the executives what role they envisioned travel agents playing in the next three to five years and beyond, as the cruise industry moves to a more global breadth and reach.
Gerry Cahill, president and CEO, Carnival Cruise Lines, said that “certainly, in the last couple of months, travel agents have very much demonstrated their value to the cruise industry. They’ve been great advocates for the safety of the industry. It’s been great to have a third party speaking on your behalf and travel agents really have done that."
He also stressed that “travel agents over the last 10 years have been through a lot of changes, just like the cruise industry has been through a lot of changes. Their business has changed dramatically. The cruise industry was founded based on the backs of travel agents. Travel agents have been our main [distribution system] since the industry started and I don’t see any way that changes in the future. They will continue to be the main distribution channel.”
Cahill acknowledged that the Internet has had a profound effect on agents. But he said many agents have evolved in very smart ways with great brands. They are great marketers, Cahill said, and “frankly, they can reach our potential guests more efficiently than we can.”
“The home-based model fascinates me deeply,” Cahill continued. “They have a reach. They can reach out to their local community, to their neighborhood associations, they can help us to attract first-timer cruisers.”
“We pushed a little bit … the travel agency community to make them a little more efficient,” he said, referring to the industry’s need to control costs and the line’s efforts to push agents to technology solutions to reduce transaction charges. “We’ve seen a tremendous increase in automation from our travel agency partners, which has worked for both parties,” Cahill said. “I think the travel agency community will continue to grow,” he said.
That said, he emphasized that agents who remain just order takers are at risk. Those who vigorously market and are great sales people will continue to prosper, Cahill noted.
Concurring was Royal Caribbean International’s President and CEO Adam Goldstein who pointed out that as travel agents have become less parochial, they've weathered challenges side-by-side with the industry and have a common cause: “They see themselves as investors in our industry.” Goldstein said the industry still has a tremendous challenge in educating agents in many foreign lands about the cruise product and the value in selling it.
Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line’s CEO, described agents as the lifeblood of the industry. Stein Kruse, president and CEO, Holland America Line, spoke about the value of the distribution system in helping cruise lines explain the value of the cruise product.
“Our distribution system recognizes that value,” Kruse said, crediting agents for explaining what goes into the inclusive cruise product.
And Dan Hanrahan, president and CEO, Celebrity Cruises, championed the agency community's passion for selling cruise products.
“We’re really lucky to have people selling our product who have as much passion as they do,” Hanrahan stressed.
Stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com for a complete roundup of the day’s activities including more from these and other executives.