Fathom: Does Carnival Corp.'s New Brand Spell Opportunity for Agents?

Volunteers help make clay water filters to help needy families in the Dominican Republic who don't have clean drinking water. // Photo courtesy of fathom

Last week, Carnival Corporation, the world's largest cruise company, introduced “fathom,” a new social interaction and voluntourism brand. Initial seven-night cruises will begin in April 2016 from PortMiami – sailing roundtrip from South Florida to the Dominican Republic for land-based charitable and social interaction.

Carnival cited that country's spectacular beauty and great needs, noting that the average household income is approximately $6,000 per year and that more than two million Dominicans do not have access to piped water.

Definitely, fathom isn't your typical cruise product. Clients won't find a casino, Broadway production shows or all the bells and whistles of the latest mega-ships. The brand will use P&O's Adoniaa former R class ship for the now defunct Renaissance Cruises. This older, 730-passenger ship also previously sailed as Royal Princess in past service for Princess Cruises (before the line had a new ship of that same name). 

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Here are some gleanings that have surfaced among the trade over the past few days.

Drew Daly, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.

Nothing Else Out There Like It: Simply put, fathom's goal is for people to enjoy a vacation with the sole purpose of "giving back to the community," helping those in need and learning about other cultures. 

Examples of what cruisers will do ashore on a fathom cruise? In the Dominican Republic, they'll possibly help cultivate cacao plants and organic fertilizer at a nursery and assist a local women’s cooperative in producing artisanal chocolates. They'll work side-by-side with Dominican school teachers in classrooms to teach English skills and help boost students’ academic performance.

They'll also participate in adult learning programs to teach small groups of local community members conversational English to help improve their ability to qualify for jobs that provide a higher level of income. And they'll give support to craft and build water filters with clay, and then deliver those to local families. 

Some cruise lines, including Holland America and Crystal Cruises, admirably offer onboard program options in which guests can go ashore in certain destinations and do good deeds. But that’s not the focus of the entire ship. And cruisers on those lines' ships usually seek plenty of pampering and onboard entertainment as well.

So fathom fills a void. “A good number of consumers have expressed an interest in more unique experiences where they can invest their time and help out locally while on a vacation,” stresses Drew Daly, general manager of network engagement and performance, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.

From Daly’s perspective, “there is no other product that exists today providing these travelers with the chance to experience a cruise and the benefits of investing their time and energy on something bigger than themselves.”

Agents Too Want to Give Back: From another perspective, John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Franchise Group, Leisure Group and Vacation.com, notes that Vacation.com launched its own Family Bonds Foundation Fund charitable initiative in April. Why? Lovell says it taps into the desire by member agents, supplier partners and staff to give back to the communities they serve.

"I share that background, because it underscores just how many agents are seeking meaningful and compelling ways to make a positive impact whether at home or away,” Lovell stressed. He expects not only consumers but also his agents to jump onboard the fathom bandwagon.

Look for Non-Cruisers to Sail: Agents tell us the concept of a charitable cruise is brilliant, as it will get non-cruisers – those critical first-timers – onboard to see if they like the product. Even if they don’t want the bells and whistles now, as they age, they may move to another cruise product in the future. 

“Those new to the cruise market will find an upscale mission trip of sorts, which will be appealing to Millennials and socially conscious families and give them a new way to experience cruising and see the world,” says Michelle Fee, CEO and co-founder of Cruise Planners.

Fathom's cruise guests volunteering for community service might assist at a Dominican Republic cacao operation. // Photo courtesy of fathom 

Start Making a Marketing Plan: To promote the new line, look for non-cruisers, people who wouldn’t have necessarily wanted to cruise, church groups and charitable groups eager to help. Daly says to seek out "those looking for superior and safer accommodations than what they might get by doing it alone." 

He also recommends agents work with teachers and student groups, particularly Spanish-speaking students or those learning the language. He also says family groups, religious volunteer groups and savvy travelers seeking a more unique experience (not just seeing the destination) are all good potential target clients. 

Vicky Garcia, Cruise Planners

Vicky Garcia, Cruise Planners’ chief operating officer, says her perspective is that the best clients should include “those clients that we have on the books today for ‘adventure travel,’ plus those Millennials that are part of family groups today.”

She says this is where a host company’s tools and software are critically important – helping the agent track past inquiries. She sees great potential with family reunions, as well as non-cruisers doing land adventures and/or locally immersive travel. “Look at your database for those families that have had children grow up traveling,” Garcia says.

Plus, she recommends looking at any groups, clubs and organizations that like to "backpack" all over the world. Her advice? “Just think missionaries.”

Focus on the Hassle-Free Aspect: The customers who might pick fathom typically will also include those who might only do “voluntouring” as a vacation each year. Daly says these people often customize their own travel and/or work with organizations and companies who have a destination-based program in place.

But “fathom will take all of the pre-planning or pre-trip headaches away from travelers,” Daly emphasizes. So agents should stress that as well. Tell clients that the cruise line will partner with local organizations and provide those wishing to serve with such onboard cruise activities as educational workshops or rudimentary Spanish lessons to prepare them for the on-the-ground social interaction and charitable experiences.

Where in the World? The first fathom cruises will sail to the Dominican Republic, and the line has said it will expand to other destinations in the future. So, the big question is: What about Cuba?

The longstanding ban on Cuba travel has been changed so that Americans can take part in tours to Cuba that encourage “people to people” contact. The new fathom product would seem to qualify in that way. 

With that in mind, we asked Roger Frizzell, chief communications officer for Carnival Corporation, if fathom would add Cuba to its future portfolio of brands. We also asked if Carnival Corporation has taken any action to gain the required license to book travel to Cuba for this brand (or work with an operator who already has a license) from the U.S. State Department.

Here’s Frizzell’s response: “Today our focus is on the launch of our initial effort with our first partners in the Dominican Republic. A big part of the success of an effort like this is the strength of your local community partners on the ground - something we feel we have in the Dominican Republic.” Frizzell added: “As you would expect, we are exploring other potential locations and additional ships, but today our focus is on the Dominican Republic.”

So, not "yes," but clearly not "no" either. Stay tuned as more on the fathom product develops. One thing is for sure, Daly says: "The launch of fathom brings a lot of excitement to the cruise industry as it is a new segment allowing agents to grow and focus their efforts on.”

Let us know in the comments below if you plan to incorporate this product into your cruise selling portfolio. If so, how do you plan to market it to your clients?

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