|L to R: Christine Duffy, president and CEO, CLIA; Karin Viera, CTC, Vice President of Sales & Member Services, Vacation.com; Joni Rein, VP Worldwide Sales, Carnival Cruise Lines; Andy Stuart, EVP Global Sales & Passenger Services, Norwegian Cruise Line; Dondra Ritzenthaler, SVP Sales & Trade Support & Services, Celebrity Cruises; Nicole Mazza, Chief Marketing Officer, TRAVELSavers; Jan Swartz, EVP Sales, Marketing & Customer Services, Princess Cruises/Cunard Line; Michelle Fee, CEO CruisePlanners; Vicki Freed, SVP Sales & Trade Support & Services, Royal Caribbean International|
How do you handle negative media reports with clients? What role do new ships play in creating positive marketplace buzz? What factors are necessary for agents to succeed in today's sales environment?
These and other topics were on the agenda for cruise line executives and agency leaders speaking at Cruise Lines International Association's (CLIA) recent cruise3sixty conference in Vancouver.
Christine Duffy, CLIA's president and CEO,moderated the first General Session. Here's a part of that discussion.
Handling Negative Perceptions
Speaking about the challenges of the Carnival Triumph situation earlier this year, Joni Rein, vice president, worldwide sales, Carnival Cruise Lines, said the weeks following the accident were very difficult, phone lines were inundated and agents were incredibly patient but “all throughout you were supportive.
“We couldn’t have gotten through those weeks without you, Rein said. “On behalf of Carnival, thanks so much.” She said the ship is now back in business, and was sold out upon its return.
Duffy asked the executives about what happens in the aftermath of such a situation. How should agents should tackle negative media reports that may cause client concerns?
Formerly with American Airlines, Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president, sales and trade support and services, Celebrity Cruises said the number one priority for any airline is safety, and “it’s also the number one priority in the cruising industry.”
“As experts and leaders, you have to really look at facts and, as much as possible, take the emotion out of this when we do have incidents happen,” Ritzenthaler said. She cited the fact that 21 million consumers safety cruise each year and have an incredible vacation.
Experienced cruisers typically aren’t fazed, but what about potential first timers who often balk? What should you as an agent say and do?
“Be positive,” said Karin Viera, vice president of sales and member services, Vacation.com. “Cruising is fabulous and it’s definitely the best value of any vacation you can take."
Get out in front of local media or your clients. Be the expert, tell the story and offer facts. For example, Viera said John Lovell, president of Vacation.com, responded to media inquiries following the Triumph situation to provide expert perspective.
If a situation occurs, check with your host or consortia, as most will provide facts and tips to assist agents in weathering the storm. Viera said Vacation.com provided its members with tidbits on cruise ship safety and points on how to overcome objections.
Similarly, Nicole Mazza, chief marketing officer, TRAVELSavers, said her organization also provided resources for its agents. “Focus on the facts, don’t focus on the fear,” she stressed. And while good talking points are important, just as important is selling your personal passion for the industry.
Michelle Fee, co-founder and CEO, Cruise Planners, says home-based agents, in particular, have an advantage in such a high-profile media situation because they’re already out and about in the small towns and cities. Because they have the “relationships” with clients, they can credibly explain situations with authority.
“Attitude is everything,” Ritzenthaler emphasized. She said when experts have the right attitude and reveal they personally cruise, that they're in the cruise business as a career, and they wouldn’t be doing it, if they didn’t think it was safe, the results can be very positive. Those things matter to clients and to the public.
“Tell it as a personal story versus something untouchable,” Ritzenthaler emphasized. “We are blessed to be in an industry where safety is so important and really we are very safe.”
Riding the Marketplace Buzz
Duffy noted that new ships being introduced can change the marketplace dynamic in a positive way. Agents can use those to their advantage. She cited sensational – highly positive -- coverage of the new Norwegian Breakaway.
Andy Stuart, executive vice president, global sales and passenger services, Norwegian Cruise Line, said the publicity for the new class of ship has been very positive, and there is another new sister ship – Norwegian Getaway – just seven months away. That should create more buzz, not just for Norwegian but for the industry as a whole.
One positive from industry fleet growth is increased segmentation – providing different types of ships and experiences, Stuart stressed, citing the ability for agents to target solo travelers, luxury cruisers or families. All agents have a cruise segment they can focus on and pursuing that will “get you good results,” Stuart added.
In similar fashion, Jan Swartz,executive vice president, sales, marketing and customer services, Princess Cruises and Cunard Line, talked about the positive publicity brought on by Royal Princess’ royal christening and the subsequent positive press from that.
Vicki Freed, senior vice president, sales and trade support and services, Royal Caribbean International, spoke about the innovations – such as bumper cars, skydiving in a controlled experience and North Star – that will create marketplace buzz when rhe new Quantum of the Seas goes into service in fall 2014.
But prior to that, various “reveals” will continue to build anticipation for the new class of ship. Use those as promotional hooks with clients.
Calling the Solstice-class ships a game changer, Ritzenthaler said her line’s Modern Luxury branding has resonated with consumers and travel partner, and “Solticizing” of other ships in the fleet has brought consistency of the product.
With all the new and refurbished ships in the industry, she urged agents “to grab it, put your arms around it, and feel passionate about it.”
To attract first time cruisers, Rein said Carnival has a Cruise Rookies series, helping agents how and where to identify the cruise rookies. She also said her line and others have cruise industry referral programs. Often experienced cruisers bring along multiple family members who have never cruised.
Those people are excellent leads. “Just ask for referrals,” was the advice of several of the executives.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series focused on What Makes a Successful Travel Agent, with more feedback from these industry leaders.