Look for big things to come this year for agents from Costa Cruises. The contemporary line’s new robust trade website (www.sellcosta.com) launched a few weeks ago. Costa is also running agent group incentives with up to 17 percent commission and low deposit requirements for guests.
In an exclusive interview with Travel Agent, Linda Parrotta, vice president of marketing for Costa North America, also relays that several new marketing and web features will launch this summer. Following is a snapshot look at top revenue opportunities for agents and marketing tidbits for Costa.
The deck of the Costa Luminosa, and the Delphinus Pool
Costa’s Trade Website
“In the past, we were sending agents to five different places for information,” stresses Parrotta. “Now we have a trade portal that’s a one-stop shop with everything an agent needs whether they’re selling groups or FITs.”
At this site, agents may download photos for promotional use; access e-brochures; download .pdf materials; review group information that’s updated weekly; and go to CostaClick.com, the line’s online trade booking engine.
What’s planned this summer? Parrotta says agents can expect a series of new Webinars and product presentations on the trade site beginning this summer and into fall. “They’re not up yet, but we’ll have them available soon,” she noted.
Also, while agents are now greeted by an introductory online video from Maurice Zarmati, president and CEO of Costa North America, Parrotta says that video will change quarterly or even monthly as the year progresses. Other Costa executives and sales staff may appear and messaging will definitely change. “We want to give agents another reason to keep coming back,” says Parrotta.
Costa Group Program
When reserving Caribbean groups for this year or next by May 29, travel agents receive guaranteed 17 percent commission; one tour conductor credit for every nine berths (the 10th passenger sails free); a complimentary cocktail party; no group deposit necessary for three months; and additional savings of up to $250 per person off previously discounted group rates.
Group Caribbean rates start as low as $399 per person. The good news is that Parrotta says that Caribbean program will likely be extended.
In addition, group programs for Costa’s new Europe 2010 itineraries are also available for sale through May 29. Travel Agent has learned that program will likely be extended through July 31.
Perks for the European program include: guaranteed 17 percent commission; one tour conductor berth for every 15 guests (the 16th passenger sails free); a complimentary bottle of Spumante; and no deposit required for four months. The 2010 European group fares start at $499 per person.
Plus, “when you look at what it would cost to go to Europe on a land vacation versus a cruise, the economic value of a cruise in Europe is incredible,” notes Parrotta. She says estimated land cost of $285 per person daily compares to just $56 per person daily for a Costa cruise including meals, entertainment and fitness activities.
In addition, Parrotta says “something special is going to drop soon [promotional collateral] as a cute way of reminding agents about this group promotion.”
The Lido Deck and Calypso Pool of the Costa Pacficia
Consumer Site Perks
One way to sell a Costa cruise is to review information on Costa’s consumer site (www.costacruises.com) with your clients. If you’re pitching a cruise on either the new Costa Pacifica or Costa Luminosa— both set to be christened in Genoa on June 5— check out the line’s full-bodied micro-sites with photo galleries and videos for each ship. The micro-sites are accessible from that main consumer site.
For example, on Costa Luminosa, the focus is on light, while on Costa Pacifica, every room that’s displayed has a different atmosphere related to music. So you click on different rooms, instruments come up, and then songs that play have been selected to dovetail with the mood in that particular area of the ship.
New on the consumer site this summer? Look for Costa to soon launch a new TV section called Web TV, featuring vignettes of Costa programs. There will also be a new area in which travelers may post their own videos.
Agent Intel and Support
Varying by itinerary, the estimated number of North Americans onboard a Costa ship sailing in Europe range from 5-20 percent, while in the Caribbean, it’s around 75 percent.
What’s the best type of customer for Costa’s “Cruising Italian Style” product? “Costa is a master at blending all of the nationalities,” says Parrotta, who says it’s important for agents to put the right type of customer onboard. “The product appeals to people who are really looking to go to Europe for a European experience. When in Europe in the Mediterranean and on a Costa ship, you are immersed in an international environment.”
Costa recently restructured its inside sales department to better support both the line’s business development managers (BDMs) and travel agent partners. The goal, says Parrotta was faster service for agents via use of skilled inside sales staff.
In terms of social networking, “we’re looking at all the social media,” notes Parrotta. She says there is a fairly new social network feature on the consumer site, allowing people to connect. However, Costa’s own Facebook [page] is getting ready to launch in the next two to three months,” says Parrotta. “We’re working on the best way to use it and marry that with our branding.”
In addition, “we talk about tweeting on a daily basis,” she notes in reference to Twitter. But she also says seven million people have already gone through the Twitter cycle and moved on to other things, “so, it’s really interesting for us to watch and to strategize on how best to use these tools."
In September and October, the Costa Atlantica will be doing a series of Canada and New England voyages, so many agents in the region can get aboard, see the ship, and meet the line’s executives. Parrotta says that with the exception of a 2006 New York visit by Costa Magica, agents in New England and eastern Canada haven’t been able to come aboard a Costa ship to see the product since the mid-1990s or before.
Promotion-wise, Costa recently dropped its 2010 brochures to agents by customizing the delivery in a pizza box. “We’re having a lot of fun with the brand, and we’re engaging the agents,” Parrotta stresses.
A new quarterly newsletter for agents focused on shore trips and ports will launch over the next few weeks. Called Grazie Mille, which translates into “A Thousand Thanks,” the newsletter will be sent via email or available in print. Look for the president’s sales tips, perhaps a wine pick of the quarter, port information, travel tips, shore excursion picks and more.
Agents who wish to learn more about Costa should head for the group support area of the trade site and register. Every Wednesday, Costa publishes a sales newsletter that includes a column by sales executives, featured specials of the week, and other trade tips and information.