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VANCOUVER — Arnold Donald, CEO and President of Carnival Corporation & plc, told travel agents attending CLIA’s Cruise360 conference in Vancouver that he wants the travel industry and agents to “think 55”.
While it represents the common entry-level age for a growing cruise market, it also represents a marketing strategy that can drive business into cruising, says Donald.
“Cruising is the number 55 for the travel agent,” he said, referring to the 2015 Will Smith movie ‘Focus’, where a successful gambler played by Smith pre-conditions a mark to choose the number 55 with the help of some subliminal prodding. When Smith’s mark has to choose a number, he chooses 55, as it just seems right. Little does he know, he was led to choose 55 all along.
Donald said Carnival is working hard to pre-condition clients to think about cruising so they will come to travel agents ready to consider cruising. Carnival launched its first Super Bowl advertisement in 2015 promoting the concept of cruising. It has been actively promoting its 11 brands in the travel and industry press and also has enhanced and broadened its product line to appeal to a larger audience with new opportunities and adventures. Carnival’s Fathom, the company’s newest cruise ship product, recently sailed into Havana making it as the first U.S. cruise ship to sail into the port in 40 years.
“We at Carnival see land-based vacations as our greatest competition, not other cruise lines,” said Donald, as the company promotes the advantages of cruising over land touring. It is the travel agent’s challenge and role to sell the right product to the client once that person walks through the door, he said. “There is a cruise out there that is right for everyone. You play a critical role in making sure we get people on the right cruise,” he told travel agents.
The cruise industry capacity can only grow as quickly as ships can be built, but consumer demand is growing faster than capacity as repeat customer plus new cruise travellers swell the numbers, said Donald. “More and more people (in the age bracket of) 55-plus are coming to cruising,” he said, adding that there are one million cruisers in China alone. The challenges facing the supplier is to provide a broad range of product that meets their needs, which may change as the repeat client ages or with family circumstance and attract new business.
“By growing demand, we grow yield,” he said, adding that represents more dollars for travel agent’s commission.
Donald said Carnival is also working to diversify and enhance its product line to provide agents with more product to sell to cruise buyers, especially first-time cruise buyers. The company recently launched Carnival Cruise Line’s Vista-class vessel with 30 different dining and bar experience and other amenities.
Carnival Vista debuted May 1 with a 13-day cruise from Trieste, Italy, the first European voyage for Carnival in three years. The vessel will offer a variety of destinations while positioned in Europe. On Oct. 21 Carnival Vista embarks on a special 13-day transatlantic crossing and arrives in New York Nov. 3 before repositioning to Miami for year round Caribbean departures. A launch ceremony has been announced for a second Vista-class ship coming in spring 2018.
Donald said the Queen Mary 2 is currently in dry-docking undergoing an interior refurbishing. The 25-day revamp will be complete June 21. “And we can’t wait for her to come back into service,” he said.
Donald said the latest addition, Fathom, “takes a bit of explaining” by the travel agent to gauge the right customer.
A lot of people who travel are seeking some kind of meaning, or seeking a connection or a way to make a possible impact on the world, he said. Fathom is geared to that kind of traveller, who wants to participate in community enrichment projects, helping to build a local project or teaching English at a school for a few hours.
“We call it impact travel,” said Donald, adding that once customers catch onto the concept “you see the light in their eyes go on.” He said this type of travel sees a high onboard rebooking rate. It is the type of travel that can also appeal to church groups or multi-generation family groups, he said.
But if the public’s love-affair with cruising is going to continue to grow, it’s important that agents know the differences between the various companies and cruise vessels, he said.
“You are the match-maker,” he said. “It is essential that you make a good match.”
Jean Sorensen is a Vancouver-based writer covering the travel industry.