With more ships coming back into service every day and brand new cruise ships just months away from launch, cruise lines are looking forward to hitting more milestones as the industry ramps back up. It’s an exciting time for cruise selling advisors. But there’s still trepidation out there among past cruisers and those who have never cruised before.
Travel Market Report spoke to executives at five cruise lines to find out what advice they’d give travel advisors, what they’re looking forward to, and what they, personally missed most about cruising during the break. We also spoke about how they used the “pause” to make cruising better than ever and what they learned as they returned to service.
(Due to its length, the roundtable is divided into two parts. This is Part Two. You can find Part One here.)
What will be the next milestone for the cruise industry in general and for your cruise line specifically?
John Chernesky, SVP, North America Sales & Trade Marketing, Princess Cruises: We [the cruise industry] have unfortunately been painted in a negative light when it comes to our health and safety practices, when in fact we have the highest standards of any vacation option in the world. Clarifying the reality of how we operate in the safest manner possible while still delivering the highest guest satisfaction scores will be our focus.
Princess is focusing on markets that have a firm return to service opportunity — several in Europe, the United States, and some in the Caribbean as well. We’re especially excited about our eight MedallionClass ships, which have returned to service or are scheduled to restart by November 28, 2021.
Ken Muskat, EVP & Chief Operating Officer, MSC Cruises USA: Looking ahead, the industry is continuing to press forward with expanding resumption efforts around the world and in the U.S. For MSC Cruises in particular, we are finishing off the year strong, bringing our newest ship, MSC Seashore, to the U.S. this November to become the newest ship cruising from Miami.
Adolfo Perez, SVP, Trade Sales and Marketing, Carnival Cruise Line: I think the next milestone will be to get our entire fleet back into operation. 2022 is shaping up to be an incredible year with our 50th Birthday festivities and the launch of the new Carnival Celebration from PortMiami later in the year.
Vicki Freed, SVP, Sales, Trade Support and Service, Royal Caribbean International: Odyssey of the Seas, which just started service. She was the ship that was supposed to go to Rome and then to Haifa, Israel, and now she’s in Fort Lauderdale. And we’re happy she’s here. We’re going to have the naming in November. And then the Navigator of the Seas coming to Los Angeles. And then there’s the Wonder of the Seas, which will start in early 2022. There’s so much excitement going on right now with our brand.
Todd Hamilton, SVP of Sales, Norwegian Cruise Line: Right now, we’re focused on relaunching the remainder of our fleet, with all 17 ships scheduled to be back in the water and welcoming guests by Q1. Following that herculean effort, we’ll soon be debuting Norwegian Prima, the first of six next-generation ships from the groundbreaking Prima Class.
What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give travel advisors selling cruises now?
Freed: I think it’s always important to listen to what the client or the prospect is saying because some of them are ready to take vacations right now. Others may want to go, but aren’t sure. And I think if you’re a good listener, you’ll help guide the consumer in making the right buying decision. I don’t believe travel advisors sell anything to anybody. If you’re really a great travel advisor, you help guide the consumer into making the right buying decision and you become the value interpreter. You can recommend a product that might be a better fit for what the consumer had in mind.
I also think this is an important opportunity for travel advisors to stay close to their consumers. Reach out and call people to have that personal relationship with them. Even if it’s just to say, “Hey, Dori, I’m just thinking about you. And I just want to check-in.” That’s going to count. People are going to remember that.
Perez: Now more than ever we are relying on travel advisors to get the word out about our commitment to the health and well-being of our guests, crew, and the destinations we visit. There is so much information to share these days – not to mention quite a bit of disinformation, unfortunately – that I would advise travel agents to continue to persevere in their efforts to market our industry and serve as amazing advocates for our industry.
Chernesky: Make sure your clients do not sit on the fence for 2022 and wait to make their booking. We are seeing tremendous demand and assuming everyone wants to get the right voyage date and cabin, now is the time to make those bookings. I tell my friends and family this all the time – with so little money required to make a deposit, don’t wait!
I would also pass on some advice to everyone traveling, which is “pack your patience.” Even experienced travelers like myself had to learn how to do it all again since it had been so long since I had been to an airport. With rules about testing and masks and vaccination requirements changing so rapidly, let’s all just appreciate that we’re able to get out and see the world again.
Hamilton: Communication is key. Although we are proud of the incredible experience we are delivering to guests, many have not traveled in over a year, so they are looking for guidance as they plan their first cruise back. Here is where travel advisors have the opportunity to showcase their expertise and reassure guests that cruising with NCL is one of the safest, if not the safest vacation choice.
Muskat: We want to continue to thank our dedicated travel advisors for their trust, support, and resilience over the last year. This hasn’t been easy, but with your commitment, we will continue to rebuild together.
What did you personally miss most about cruising during the pause?
Perez: I really miss going on board and seeing our crew – who are the best in the business – as well as spending some in-person time with our travel advisor partners. Virtual meetings are just not the same!
Chernesky: Other than having a world-class chef cook breakfast/lunch/dinner for us and a dedicated crew member doing the dishes, making our drinks, cleaning our room, making our bed, and entertaining us with world-class performers… not to mention being able to have anything I want delivered to me no matter where I am on the ship thanks to MedallionClass? Nothing at all. I’ve really enjoyed my time at home not going anywhere. #sarcasm
There are so many elements of a cruise that make it special. Interacting with our amazing crew and being spoiled by them come to mind first! Walking on the Majestic Princess for our very first cruise in 17 months and having the crew welcome us with a round of applause as we entered the Piazza was a WOW moment I will never forget.
Hamilton: The people. We have such an incredible shipboard team. They have been the unsung heroes of NCL over the last year and a half. They’ve had to quickly adjust to the demands of the evolving public health environment, and yet their commitment to delivering an exceptional guest experience has never wavered.
When I stepped aboard Norwegian Encore for the first time since her debut in 2019, as she was preparing to make her Great Cruise Comeback from Seattle in August, there was an overwhelming sense of joy throughout the ship amongst our guests and crew. It felt like a reunion of sorts. It was an incredible feeling, and one I’ll always remember.
Freed: I missed the beautiful stories from guests that come back from a cruise and say, “oh my God, Vicki, I have to share this experience with you. I have to tell you what a difference it made for my family and how special it was that this crew member did this.” You take such pride in knowing that your company is delivering incredible vacation memories.
Muskat: Having spent my entire career in the cruise industry, I missed everything about cruising during the pause. I missed interacting with our guests and crew on board, seeing guests enjoy themselves onboard our ships, and hearing about their incredible experiences. I’ve missed connecting with our dedicated travel partners at sea and helping them experience our product first-hand.