Held Hostage in the Dining Room…
……or how a cruise line should NOT conduct a Ship Inspection!
As I was on the plane jetting home from what has become one of the industry’s premier trade shows, CLIA’s Cruise3Sixty, I reflected back not only on the updated industry and supplier information I picked up, but also on the wonderful memories of interacting with my fellow travel professionals. I swear, I learn almost as much from them as with any of the official sessions in the program!
One of the main draws for me to travel to a trade show from California to Florida though, is the opportunity to participate in the various ship inspections. Brochures I can order online, product updates I can get from a webinar – but let’s face it, since so many of the cruise lines have pulled their ships from regular west coast itineraries – this is pretty much the only way I can get a chance to tour any of the ships, especially the newest ones. For me it is always better to actually “get my feet on the ground” (or deck as it were) on these ships – to get a feel for the ambiance and passenger demographic, get a sense of the space ratio – so I can better match my clients to the cruise line and ship that will keep them coming back to both of us. So it was with great anticipation that I boarded the bus to travel to the port to tour a class of ship I’d not been on yet, for my first inspection of the conference.
I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the wonderful opportunity to tour a ship and for the many courtesies shown travel agents by the cruiselines. Therefore, I will refrain from actually naming the cruise line responsible for my captivity, as in all honesty I have had them all do this at one time or another.
I was in line for the bus at the appointed time. Boarding the bus and getting to the Port of Miami was a little long but not too bad, and the check in process went as smoothly as possible. We all are well aware the cruise lines have to cross all the i’s and dot all the t’s to make the nervous TSA happy. We were informed that we must be off the ship and back on the bus at 1:30 or we would be left behind, and then we were allowed to board. I glanced at my watch – Ok not too bad time wise – still time to “power walk” the ship and take it all in.
However once we boarded, we were informed that we must proceed directly to the dining room following the staff member with the tour sign – no deviations were allowed. Hmmm. I know how these lunch things are and I was not happy. I tried to look for an opportunity to make a break for it – but it was as if they had anticipated a rouge agent or two and had pretty much formed a gauntlet of staff for us to pass through to make sure no one escaped. Ok fine, we’ll eat fast and then fly through the ship.
At this point we entered a beautiful dining room and were greeted by the lovely wait staff that did their utmost to provide a relaxed dining experience. However…I began to see more and more of us looking at our watches. Apparently our CLIA escort also noticed the growing discontent, as he proceeded to circle through the tables informing us we were NOT allowed to tour on our own – we must wait to be escorted by cruise staff. The rumblings grew a little more pronounced and it didn’t take long for our escort to realize that that he was going to have a real problem very quickly. He finally procured permission for us to leave and tour the ship on our own. So at 1:00 we were released and God help the passenger that got in the way as the agents flew out of that dining room to try to see as much of the ship as possible and still be back on the bus on time.
The following day’s inspection trip didn’t go much better. I had actually selected the sister ship of Day 1’s inspection by accident , but on the way over I thought to myself “This is actually OK – I’ll get to see all those areas I missed yesterday, and just meld the two together”. Um, wrong. Once again we were informed we must be escorted – however this time not only did they not trust us to tour the ship on our own – they also didn’t open the dining room until 12:25 – instead they had us just milling around in the foyer of the dining room until they opened it. Once seated, the waiters were not allowed to take our lunch order until the captain spoke to us. Again, a lovely gesture, but it pushed a ship tour out of the realm of possibility. So at that point I resigned myself to just enjoy lunch, and perhaps an extra glass of wine, as the stress and irritation of not seeing the ship just wasn’t worth it.
Cruise line executives, if you want us to sell your ships –let us actually see them when we make the time to do so. Please value and respect what a significant commitment travel professionals are making to travel to these trade shows. For me, not only is it usually a monetary investment of over $1000 to attend between air, hotel, show registration and meals – but I also must put my business on hold for a minimum of 5 days.
Perhaps in days of yesteryear you mostly had agency owners who most enjoyed being wined and dined – but please realize that for those of us who run one or two person offices, which is quickly becoming if not already the norm, time is money for us – and both are in short supply!
And thank you for lunch.