Costa Shares Sales Tips, Sees Group Travel Expanding and More

Scott Knutson, vice president, sales and marketing, North America, Costa Cruises, talked with Travel Agent and other media virtually this week, providing an update on what's trending, how advisors can create future revenue in a pandemic-era, and Costa's restart.

Here's what we learned:

One different factor for cruising moving forward is a strict regimen of health and safety protocols that must be followed. But for many guests, knowing that cruising is being designed—and in Europe, already operated—as a “safe bubble” is a plus, Knutson believes.

During late 2020, Costa Smeralda sailed in Europe with Italian guests, but government travel restrictions during the Christmas-New Year's holiday period resulted in a temporary "pause" of those cruises. (See further below for the restart schedule.) But, while those cruises were operating, "the protocols proved very successful,” Knutson said. "We had little or no instances of anything [COVID-19] onboard and if there was … it was taken care of right away and the government applauded us for that,” he told reporters.

Discussing Protocols and Vaccines

What should advisors know about any potential requirements for vaccinations for crew and guests? “We haven’t made a decision at this point on vaccination, but we have made a decision on protocols,” said Knutson. “They’re absolute and not negotiable.”

He said the line hadn’t made a decision yet on vaccinations for booked guests because of many different reasons. That said, for "our crew…the goal is to have the crew vaccinated, and to the extent that we can do that…we think we can get to 100 percent," Knutson revealed. But he said there are challenges for crew vaccinations, too. Costa has Italian officers but an international crew from dozens of countries. Still, the goal is to have at least all crew members vaccinated. 

Reconnecting: In Person, Not Virtually 

Similar to what most other cruise lines are seeing, “there’s this tremendous pent-up demand from people that have been isolated for the last year, “ said Knutson. "While it’s going to take some time…more time than most of us would like" for the full cruise industry restart, he believes that will happen.

What's the booking opportunity for advisors? From his perspective, "we’re looking at people that have been connected all this time online instead of in person." In other words, nothing beats seeing someone in person, versus watching them on a video screen. So, advisors who stress the "in-person reconnection" factor on a cruise with family and friends can tap into a hot button for clients with pent-up travel desires. 

Knutson also revealed that “we see those people are probably going to travel more in groups—whether it’s two couples, four couples, six couples, families.” Costa’s group business has been up “significantly” as far as quotes, particularly for 2022.

It's not simply for large groups, Knutson reports: "It’s more families, friends, associations, 10 and 20 cabins at a time.”

Another plus for groups to stress to any novice international travelers? “If you’ve never been to Europe and you’re not accustomed to traveling internationally, you’re much more comfortable going with a group of friends, even another couple, than you are going off on your own, and doing this with ‘eyes wide open’ but not really knowing how to navigate things," said Knutson.

Having someone in the group who’s well-traveled, internationally at least, makes European travel novices more comfortable. He believes that can allow them to “get out and enjoy life."

Stressing Break-Away and Relaxation 

People travel for different reasons—among them, breaking away from the mundane life they may live day to day, as well as to explore. “There’s no age on exploration," emphasized Knutson, adding that "exploring is a state of mind; it’s not a state of life. People like to explore...and would like to see the world again."

For clients who’ve been sitting home and staring at a beautiful view from their home, but increasingly seeing that same view day after day, Knutson said that Costa’s next marketing approach is likely to tap into that frustration. It will revolve around, “Relax and We’ll Move the Scenery.”

That's the type of general philosophy that advisors too can incorporate into their own promotions, given that many clients are weary of the homebound experience—one that's lasted for more than a year.  

With a cruise, clients can get onboard, relax, enjoy what’s onboard, go to sleep and wake up the next day with a new vista: “We’ll move the scenery. You don’t have to worry about it. You don’t have to get on a bus and ‘schlep’ around the country in Europe,” Knutson said.

Costa’s Return to Service

Several upcoming restart dates for Costa are for Italian guests only, given travel restrictions. Those include Costa Smeralda’s return to service on March 27, sailing short cruises to Italian ports and a bit later, week-long voyages to the western Mediterranean (Marseilles, Barcelona and Majorca) from Italy. Costa Luminosa will begin sailing for Italian guests on May 2.

That limitation for Italians only is based on travel restrictions and government requirements. But, Knutson provided the latest schedule for when Costa's fleet is expected to sail with international guests including North Americans onboard.

  • Costa Deliziosa – May 29, 2021
  • Costa Diadema – June 04, 2021
  • Costa Favolosa – June 06, 2021
  • Costa Firenze – May 30, 2021
  • Costa Fortuna – June 05, 2021
  • Costa Fascinosa – June 07, 2021
  • Costa Luminosa – June 06, 2021
  • Costa Magica – May 29, 2021
  • Costa Pacifica – May 28, 2021
  • Costa Smeralda – June 01, 2021
  • Costa Toscana – December 26,2021

The above schedule is subject to change, based on international travel conditions and government policies. Overall, though, "we’re looking forward to getting North Americans back onboard and enjoying life again,” he said. “It’s not that people don’t want to travel." 

So, will Costa's and other lines' European cruises help convince the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it’s safe to sail once again and that it can be done safely? “Cruising is obviously critical to the Italian economy so perhaps it’s been given a little bit more emphasis," Knutson noted. He emphasized that Italian officials have looked at the protocols and said, “If you can abide by the rules, and implement the things we’ve asked you to do, over and above [what the government itself has dictated] and it’s successful, then go."

Knutson said both Costa and “Swiss friends, as well”—a reference to MSC Cruises’ European sailings—have “gotten back into the water and done it well. And if other areas can learn from that, fantastic.”

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