What makes a lasting memory? Think back over past vacation experiences. What kinds of things stand out? Most likely it is the emotional highs, the relationships, the personalities encountered, the laughter and unexpected events, no?
Ok, before you start congratulating me on my tremendous grasp of the obvious…let me point out the most perplexing disconnect from my 25 years as a travel agency owner and cruise specialist. What leaves me scratching my head is this – things that are so important to the client prior to choosing a vacation package are almost entirely forgotten once the experience is complete!
Can’t get enough of what really doesn’t matter?
During the planning stage clients will spend hours, days, weeks, months tediously pouring over brochures, visiting cruise line websites, comparing prices, measuring the square footage of cabins, scouring online reviews totaling up the number of superlatives used to describe the food on this ship versus the food on that one – doing so as if the very success or failure of their cruise vacation was riding on these ultra-fine, hair splitting distinctions.
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Then post vacation – in describing their experience – a whole new set of standards are called into play. As irrational as it may seem, there is value in understanding and adjusting for this bit of odd behavior. Whether a leisure travel professional or simply planning a vacation for your self – keep in mind from the very beginning that success depends on the ratio of fun memories to the monotonous or prosaic. Too often we lose sight of the fact that our most precious commodity is time. So, do you really want to invest time (and money) in any experience where opportunities for magical moments are not maximized?
A closer look: the cruise industry –
The chatter overheard in most post-cruise gatherings tends to be about the colorful characters met at dinner…the waiter who was also an accomplished close-up magician…the friendliness and caring attitude of staff who seemed to truly enjoy their work, the accessible entertainers who mingled with the hoi polloi. But, by comparison, comments about food, service or cabin size often seem to be little more than brief asides – almost mundane.
Savvy cruise marketers understand this peculiarity and have had great success leveraging this dynamic into their advertising and marketing – as well as the on board experience itself. Within the industry there is one standout in this respect.
But first, a little background –
As you would expect, the “mass market’ segment of the cruise industry is by far the largest in terms of dollars spent, capitalization, passengers carried, etc. Within this segment, traditional standards of measurement for choosing one cruise over another have always been highly subjective, but lately with the advent of the new, state-of-art mega-ships distinctions are blurred even more. For instance the Big Three players – Carnival, Norwegian & Royal Caribbean – all tend to have similar itineraries, about the same prices, the same level of service and food – plus a constantly growing list of mind boggling activities and pimped up cabins, suites, penthouses, spas, showrooms and other “I-never-knew-they-had-that-on-a-ship” offerings.
And the winner is…
Of those three, Carnival Cruise Lines is the one that has gotten it right from the very beginning. It is no coincidence that CCL is the most financially successful cruise company to date. Via aggressive acquisition Carnival now is the parent company of a growing number of brands, eleven to date – including Princess, Holland America, Cunard, Aida, P&O, Costa and Seabourn. Of these, the Carnival brand itself remains the most successful – still the Cash Cow of Cruising.
The Chairman and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines is Mickey Arison – son of founder Ted Arison. His particular genius is relentlessly focusing on the real differentiator in the biggest market segment – fun. The perennial ‘Fun Ships’ branding strategy has been wildly successful – planting seeds for effective post vacation word of mouth marketing for decades. The “fun” theme starts with their advertising and marketing and continues with the on board experience – one that rarely fails to deliver to its target audience. To paraphrase bank robber Willie Sutton, Carnival knows that fun “is where the money is”.
The Fun Ships –
Out of necessity Carnival Cruise Lines is highly competitive in food, service and on board activities but returning Carnival guests – more than any other brand – will inevitably regale their friends with tall tales about all the fun that was had…along with painfully unflattering photos of low brow events such as the Hairy Chest or Beer Drinking contests. Thirty seven years ago, when he founded the company, the senior Mr. Arison knew instinctively that post cruise chatter about fun was money in the bank.
‘Back to the Future’ Marketing –
Could we as vacation planners, whether selling via traditional retail outlets, a virtual online presence – or some hybrid thereof – exert more influence over these critical post trip conversations? I’m not suggesting that we all become stage hypnotists or Hollywood script writers, but William Turner was on to something when he said “You may have heard that the world is made up of atoms and molecules, but it is really made up of stories.”
Never under estimate the power of a great story –
The modern day nomenclature for this little bit of marketing strategy is called “branding” – something the senior Mr. Arison understood long ago. As a vacation planner, the question to ask yourself is – do you habitually look for ways to make customer contact more stimulating, interesting, or entertaining? Or, do you view yourself as primarily an order taker? Is the client left with a feeling of affinity – looking forward to future communication – in other words was the interaction memorable?
The power of FUN –
What can you do proactively to make client communications more interesting? Do you ask questions designed to focus on what truly counts – the memory – versus temporary obsessions? (See paragraph 3)
A little creative guidance can go a long way to motivate – to make interesting and fun what is normally be perceived to be a tedious bother. Here is a wonderful, real life illustration of my point. Pause for a moment to take a look at the http://TheFunTheory.com videos.
Branding yourself –
No one can write the script but you – you must be authentic. Take a look at subtle but creative ways for making client interactions more fun. Maybe only a slight shift in attitude is required and the script writes itself. The game changing strategy could be as simple as reminding yourself as you pick up the phone, “Hey, the fun starts now!” Like the people in The Fun Theory videos, whether motivating to take the stairs verses the escalator, to pick up trash and throw it into the proper receptacle – or reveal what really matters most in a vacation experience – training yourself to plant seeds for fun at first contact could mean a new level of success – even launch you on your way to becoming the next billionaire cruise line owner. – LEC
|Lyn Edwin Cathey – Network Travel Services, LLCA veteran of 25 years in the travel industry – holding positions within the industry such as trainer, educator, agent, consultant, agency owner/manager and product specialist. For 15 years prior to joining the travel industry Lyn worked as a full time entertainer/comedian, performing on banjo & guitar – often as a featured act on cruise ships. He created and currently maintains several websites, including – http://TripFinder.comhttp://PimpMyCruise.com|