ONBOARD ROTTERDAM — More than 800 travel agents from Canada and the U.S. got a look at Holland America Line’s brand new Rotterdam on a trade-only cruise earlier this month.
The cruise line’s ‘Attitude of Gratitude’ FAM also gave travel advisors an opportunity to learn about Holland America Line’s sales and marketing efforts as part of its return-to-service through the summer — including a new Alaska campaign and additions to its Grand Voyages where agents can earn higher commission.
The three-day itinerary, sailing out of Fort Lauderdale, included a quick trip to Half Moon Cay, Holland America Line’s private island in the Bahamas, and showcased the line’s newest addition, Rotterdam — its third Pinnacle-class ship — which joined the fleet in July 2021.
“Particularly during this chapter of the pandemic, the trade has really shown their value to the consumer because travel is not as easy as it used to be,” said Michelle Sutter, Vice President, North America Sales with Holland America Line, during a media briefing aboard the ship. Travel agents often have to manage a booking multiple times, while staying up-to-date on the latest protocols and restrictions.
“The intention of this cruise was solely to demonstrate our gratitude for the trade and to give them the opportunity to experience the new Holland America Line,” she said. “Many of these agents either have never sailed with us or haven’t sailed with us for many years.” And, because it’s Holland America Line’s 75th year in Alaska, “we also wanted to showcase Alaska here because that’s our core product.”
Holland America Line’s President, Gus Antorcha, said the pandemic has been very hard on the trade, but “coming out of omicron, I’m really pleased with what we’re seeing, and we’re focused on our summer [destinations], Alaska being one of them and Europe the other.”
Six of the line’s 11 ships will be in Alaska for the summer season. Rotterdam won’t be one of them; she’ll be heading to Europe this May. In a sneak peek of what’s to come as part of Holland America Line’s upcoming 150th anniversary celebrations, “in October this ship, Rotterdam, will go from the Netherlands to New York, with a stop in Paris along the way,” said Antorcha. This sailing will pay homage to the line’s early history of transporting European emigrants to the New World.
These days, many travellers are booking cruises further out —particularly in Canada, where cruise restrictions have just started to ease up. But as pandemic rules change (such as no longer requiring pre-arrival tests to return home to Canada, starting April 1), “that’s one less headache for travellers, so they’re booking more last minute,” said Sutter.
“My husband happens to own a cruise travel agency and that’s what he’s seeing as well,” she said. “People are [also] booking up, they’re spending more because they haven’t been travelling for so long. So they’re booking into suites or longer cruises.”
If clientele are concerned about international travel, Antorcha recommends that agents book them on a cruise departing from Vancouver. Holland America Line has also announced additions to its Grand Voyages, as well as longer itineraries, which leave out of the U.S., including San Diego, New York and Fort Lauderdale.
“It just eliminates a hassle or an uncertainty right now with international flights. So you focus on which is easier. Can you get to San Diego? Yep. Okay, then it’s taken care of from there,” said Antorcha.
Holland America Line was the first cruise line to offer adventures to Alaska and the Yukon nearly 75 years ago, and on the ‘Attitude of Gratitude’ sailing, executives took the opportunity to highlight their latest campaign — and to give away 75 Alaska cruises to travel agents.
“We’re launching our new Alaska campaign this year,” said Kacy Cole, vice-president of marketing and e-commerce with Holland America Line. “It’s all about our 75th anniversary. And it’s really about being the Alaska experts since 1947.”
‘Alaska Up Close’ features local experts and personalities leading workshops and lectures, new food and wine shore excursions, port-to-table culinary immersion and local cuisine served in dining venues throughout the ship.
For example, guests won’t just cruise Glacier Bay; they’ll get a chance to interact with native Huna Tlingit tribe members and park rangers. And they won’t simply eat seafood; they’ll taste the salmon they caught that day and have it prepared by Holland America Line chefs.
In 2022, six Holland America Line ships will explore Alaska, either roundtrip from Seattle, roundtrip from Vancouver or one-way between Vancouver and Whittier, Alaska, with the option of 16 different Cruisetours that combine an Alaska cruise with an inland exploration of Denali National Park or the Yukon.
“We really want to be thoughtful about how we bring such an important milestone to life,” said Cole. “We’re really thinking about every detail.” That means providing digital tools, collateral and training for agents; for example, Holland America Line is creating a content production studio to help push out creative content that agents will have access to.
With the line’s 150th anniversary celebrations starting later this year, there will be more brand campaigns to come.
“We are a destination cruise line and we travel the world—we hit all seven continents,” said Beth Bodensteiner, Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer with Holland America Line. However, the company divested four of its smaller ships during the pandemic — and those ships provided unique access to smaller ports.
“A huge shout-out to the deployment team, because they have made sure that we keep that access. And so we are not changing our global deployment. And I want to make sure that everyone is reassured that we will still go to all those same countries and all those same ports, even though we have four less ships,” said Bodensteiner.
They’ve also increased occupancy on their Grand Voyages. “We’ve put larger ships there [and] there’s more opportunity to sell those,” she said.
Grand Voyages fall under GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) travel experiences. People feel like they lost two years of their travel life, said Bodensteiner, so they want to go to those far-flung GOAT destinations.
Holland America Line is making it easier to reach those far-flung destinations on roundtrip deployments from U.S. ports. This includes the Grand Africa (in 2023) departing from Fort Lauderdale, the Grand Australia (in 2024) departing from San Diego and a 56-day Tahiti and Hawaii cruise that departs from San Diego.
Agents will also have access to more FAMs in the coming year, some of which will feature themes, such as how to build their business through social media. For this sailing season, agents will only pay taxes and fees (and won’t be charged for their cabin).
“We are tremendously grateful for [our agents] and all of their support in the last two years,” said Sutter. “It’s been very challenging and they’ve been there supporting us all along the way.”