Week in Review: Icon of the Seas’ Debut; Travel Trade Hires

As technology continues to rapidly advance, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), along with Microsoft, in a new report said that artificial intelligence (AI) will “revolutionize” the travel and tourism sector. The WTTC called on the sector for greater integration of such technologies and added that it is committed to driving innovation and supporting the sector to embrace AI and other cutting-edge technologies.

The tourism body believes AI can play a pivotal role in delivering a tailored and enhanced experience, both now and in the future. This technology can empower personalized recommendations and marketing strategies by analyzing traveler data, optimizing pricing strategies through real-time adjustments and offering instant responses and fine-tuned interactions via sophisticated AI-powered chatbots. 

A separate study by The Hague & Partners Convention Bureau and Ottawa Tourism highlighted the accelerating integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in the global association conference and event sector; it also underscored the urgent need for widespread upskilling in the use of the technology, as well as a need to understand the ethical implications of its use. The same can likely be said for those in the leisure travel business.

Icon of the Seas’ Debut and Other Cruise News

The Pearl within the Royal Promenade of Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas.
The Pearl on the Royal Promenade on Icon of the Seas. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

The world's largest ship, Royal Caribbean's 5,610-passenger Icon of the Seas, made its debut in Miami last week for a naming ceremony and a preview sailing, which Travel Agent took part in. Although the capacity for our sailing was “just” 4,200 (about 75 percent full), it never felt crowded, there is a wide range of experiences for travelers of all ages and it could not have been more fabulous.

From embarking to disembarking (which were both a breeze), everything we tested, trialed, sampled and experienced, was excellent. Our tip: There is too much onboard to experience in one sailing, so don’t rush to see and do everything. We fell into this “trap” on our first day but on the second full day, we slowed down, relaxed and began to take in the venues and activities at our own pace—and we fell back into experiencing the things we specifically enjoyed at sea and the way we liked to experience them. In other words, we began to enjoy the journey.

Highlights included The Pearl on the Royal Promenade, Giovanni’s restaurant and bar, the three-deck Chill Island and its four pools, Central Park, the Suite Neighborhood, the numerous creative sculptures onboard and the family-friendly Surfside neighborhood—not to mention one of the best shows, if not the best, that we’ve seen at sea, a true-to-the-film reproduction of “The Wizard of Oz.”

World Navigator_Exterior_Antarctica
Ocean Conservationists onboard World Navigator will focus on raising awareness, collecting vital scientific data and empowering guests to become citizen scientists. (Atlas Ocean Voyages)

Elsewhere on the cruise front, Atlas Ocean Voyages announced a new partnership with marine conservation charity ORCA. Onboard World Navigator, new Ocean Conservationists will focus on raising awareness, collecting vital scientific data, and actively contributing to safeguarding whales and dolphins. The partnership will also empower guests to become citizen scientists, participating in hands-on workshops.

Emerald Cruises, separately, detailed a new 16-day "Safari and The Seychelles" itinerary, available to book now with departures from December 2024 to February 2025. This journey aboard the 100-guest Emerald Azzurra yacht blends a six-night Kenyan safari with a nine-night Seychelles cruise.

Lastly, Quark Expeditions has accepted Ocean Explorer into its fleet. The 138-passenger polar expedition ship will set sail at the start of the Antarctic 2024-25 season.

New Trade Appointments

Also on the cruise front, HX (Hurtigruten Expeditions) made four appointments in the Americas. The new hires come as part of HX’s effort to expand its presence in the market and forge stronger relationships with the travel trade as HX enters the next phase of its rebrand. New hires include: Carla Brake as senior sales director; Jennifer Kennedy as business development manager, Southeast U.S.; Kent Phillips as business development manager, Western Canada; and Ian Kivell as business development manager, Eastern Canada.

Gina Bang_Avanti Destinations
Gina Bang, thew new chief sales and marketing officer for Avanti Destinations, has been with the company for 21 years. (Avanti Destinations)

Wholesale custom tour operator Avanti Destinations has additionally appointed Gina Bang as chief sales and marketing officer, reporting directly to CEO Paul Barry. Bang has been with Avanti for 21 years, most recently serving as director of marketing. Starting as a customer service representative, Bang’s other positions have included: manager of inside sales; product manager for Central and Northern Europe; and senior manager of inside sales and marketing.

The Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) has a new CEO and COO. Barbados' Minister of Tourism and International Transport Ian Gooding-Edghill recently announced that longstanding tourism professional Andrea Franklin will assume the role of CEO of the BTMI from April 1. The board of directors also agreed that the new CEO should be supported by a chief operations officer tasked to Cheryl Carter. She will manage the operational functions of the organization to facilitate the streamlining of skills and core functions so that Franklin can focus on the strategic direction of the new entity.

Stat of the Week

According to a survey commissioned by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, 72 percent of Americans say they plan to either maintain or increase their number of hotel stays in 2024 compared to 2023. Hotels, additionally, remain the top lodging choice for likely travelers. In the near term, most Americans (53 percent) said they plan to travel overnight for leisure during the next four months. A similar number (51 percent) said they are likely to travel overnight for a family trip in the next four months.

30Under30 Nominations Now Open

30Under30 2018 Graphic

Nominations for Travel Agent's 30Under30 for 2024 are now open! You may nominate yourself or pass the word along to a qualified candidate you know.

What to know: Nominees must be 30 years old or younger as of December 31, 2024, currently work at any level as a travel consultant, have completed a significant project for his or her travel agency, and be recognized by leaders of his or her organization as an emerging leader. The deadline to be considered for the 17th edition of the program is March 1, 2024.

Please make sure to fill out the form in its entirety and don't be shy about bragging a little—it will help us make our decisions! We hope to hear from you and good luck!

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