In light of recent events, clients and travel advisors are asking this question. If you missed the news stories over the holidays, there have been two recent accidents involving Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise passengers. The first was just days before Christmas when a bus crashed, killing 11 cruise passengers and a tour guide. The excursion to a nearby Mayan ruin site was contracted through the cruise lines. The second incident was last week with a SCUBA diving boat sinking. Again, this was a cruise line contract excursion. Both incidents occurred in Mexico.
Over the next week or two the phone calls will hopefully slow down to a trickle. During that time travel agents and clients alike will make their way over the hills and through the woods to celebrate the holidays with family. Possibly your clients will be talking to their families about their 2018 travel plans, possibly coaxing family members to join them. But what will you be doing during this down time?
We are in the midst of Hanukkah right now, and Christmas is only a few days away. You might get a last minute call from a client wanting a cruise for the holidays this year, but this isn’t the time to actually market 2017 holiday sailings. However, this is a great time to start marketing to clients about booking their cruises for Hanukkah or Christmas 2018 or even 2019 (some cruise lines have already released their 2019-2020 itineraries for booking).
When cruise lines make a change, like introducing a new type of cruise fare or changing their group policy, etc. it’s not easy to predict how the change will be received. Four months ago Royal Caribbean changed their onboard rebooking policy (link to previous article: http://www.travelresearchonline.com/blog/index.php/2017/08/keeping-up-with-onboard-future-bookings/). In a nutshell, they did away with the $100 per person reduced deposit, and the only onboard credit offer is now tied to the new nonrefundable deposit cruise fare.
My educated guess was that this may have been a result of passengers taking advantage of the previous low deposit amount, and booking multiple cruises only to cancel the bulk of them right before final payment. If you can’t decide which cruise you want, or don’t know if your vacation request will be approved, why not hedge your bets? You had nothing to lose since the deposits were refundable. However it was a pain for the cruise lines, with cancelled bookings dumping back into inventory.
I’m always suspicious when a new policy is rolled out by a cruise line, and it seems to just fly under the radar. Royal Caribbean recently rolled out new group policies to coincide with the new 2019-20 itineraries that are coming out. The deployment information is getting a lot of coverage and fanfare. But the new group policy, not so much, which has me concerned. Is this because they expect their travel agent partners aren’t going to like it when they finally learn about it?
More accurately, WAVE SEASON IS COMING!! That thought is just as frightening for some in the travel industry as “winter is coming!” is to characters in Game of Thrones. There is general panic, anxiety and night terrors. It used to be that wave season didn’t kick in until after the new year rolled around, and it last for six to eight weeks. Then it began lasting longer. Nowadays, for some travel agents, it feels like wave season can last three to four months (feeling like an eternity). As for when it starts, it’s feeling like November is the new January.
Virgin Voyages is coming. If you haven’t heard, that’s the new cruise line being launched by Richard Branson and his company the Virgin Group. It’s not surprising that Virgin Group would eventually come around and launch a cruise line. They don’t limit their ventures to travel, but they do have quite a few travel focused subsidiaries on the books: Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Australia, Virgin Galactic, Virgin Vacations, Virgin Hotels, and Virgin Rail Group. And that’s not all of them; but you can see why Virgin Voyages (originally Virgin Cruises) isn’t a surprise.
Saying that this has been a memorable hurricane season would be an understatement. In the Atlantic alone, dealing with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have strained resources in multiple locations, turned vacations upside down and inside out. This has costed clients, cruise lines, and shore excursion operators a significant amount of money.
Beverage packages seems to be an ongoing issue for cruise lines. They have tried a variety of twists with their beverage packages. Some have tested limiting beverage packages to 15 alcoholic drinks per 24 hour period. Others have tested whether they can allow passengers to purchase packages without requiring other adults in the stateroom to purchases the same package. It just feels like every time we turn around, we’re hearing about some cruise line tinkering with their rules and polices about beverage packages.
And just recently we have received announcements from two different cruise lines.
In the chaos of hurricanes over the past few weeks, other cruise news has gone unnoticed. So let’s take a break from Hurricanes Harvey through Maria, and look at the latest improvements rolled out in Espresso, the booking engine used by Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Azamara.
Previous Espresso enhancements rolled out earlier this year included the ability to redeem group amenity points online, along with other group management enhancements. The newest enhancements rolled out last month are a mix of improvements.
Last week when I wrote about Hurricane Harvey and how the cruise lines responded, I never thought I would be writing about hurricanes the following week. I considered writing about something else cruise-related, but it all seems so unimportant right now. Read the rest of this entry »
Hurricanes happen every year. Fortunately, they are usually identified early and closely tracked, and not every hurricane makes land fall. In most instances, cruises aren’t seriously impacted. I’ve been on ships when an itinerary has to be completely turned on its head because of an active hurricane, but that was the extent of the impact on the cruise; only a minor inconvenience.
As a result we had beautiful weather and calm seas. Of course, there’s always at least one loud disgruntled passenger because they had their hearts set on visiting a specific port, or they don’t want to go to Nassau for the umpteenth time.
The residents of Venice have been rumbling for a while about the influx of cruise ship passengers in their fragile city. The relationship between Venice, Italy and cruise ships is tenuous at best. It has been reported that relations between residents of Venice and the ever-growing number of tourists is strained, at best. With approximately 50,000 residents living in Venice, the influx of cruise ship passengers (up to 30,000 per day) is overwhelming the city. That does not include the number of tourists entering the city via land (by planes, trains, and automobiles). Calculate land-based tourists into the mix, and Venice residents are helplessly outnumbered.
Norwegian Bliss has been available to book for some time now, although the ship does not start sailing until Spring 2018. As consumers and travel agents alike wait in anticipation, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) occasionally releases more information about the ship, and its innovations. This week saw Norwegian releasing more information about firsts at sea, such as laser tag and the largest race track at sea.
All of the major cruise lines offer some kind of incentive to create future bookings while onboard their current cruise. It’s an effective marketing tool. While every cruise line conducts their onboard booking process in their own way, the basic premise is to target clients who are currently enjoying their cruise experience, and to get them to commit to a future cruise. Of course, that commitment requires handing over their credit card to secure the future booking with a deposit.
To entice them to do so, the cruse lines offer some type of incentive that cannot be obtained through normal shoreside booking avenues (whether direct or through a travel agent). Royal Caribbean recently announced that their NextCruise program underwent some changes which are currently being rolled out to all ships in the fleet.
On July 21st, Royal Caribbean International rolled out their new travel agent training program, Royal Caribbean University. The new program replaced the old University of WOW, which has now been closed. The University of WOW has been around for approximately seven years. Rewards for achieving Expert or Expert Plus include the earned designation on the Find a Travel Agent Locator on the Royal Caribbean website, framable certificates, invitations to Seminars at Sea, and “more.”
At this point, most major cruise lines have only released itineraries through April 2019. However, 2020 can be booked now for certain itineraries. For example, take Regent Seven Seas’ recently announced 2020 World Cruise. It starts in San Francisco (departing January 24, 2020) or Miami (departing January 6, 2020). The 131 night itinerary includes 6 continents, 30 countries, 66 ports of call, 3 oceans crossed, 11 seas cruised, 36 UNESCO World Heritage sites, 13 overnight stays, 330 free shore excursions to choose from, and 33,871 nautical miles sailed.
The term “over the holidays” often conjures images of Christmas trees, Santa Claus, fireworks, champagne, and crazy cruise fares. The two weeks around Christmas and New Year’s Day are the two busiest, thus most expensive, times for cruising. But those aren’t the only holidays that people plan their vacations around. Of course there’s Thanksgiving, and Memorial Day and Labor Day are holiday weekends that bookend the busy summer season. Even this past 4th of July weekend is a perfect example.
This week Celebrity Cruises revealed more about the new ship Celebrity Edge, specifically the area of the ship called Eden. The definition of Eden is “a place of pristine or abundant beauty; a state of perfect happiness or bliss; paradise.” Celebrity is striving for this new onboard destination to truly live up to that description.
When the White House announced that President Trump would be reversing the Obama administration’s policy changes pertaining to Cuba, many in the travel industry were concerned. Tour operators and cruise lines have made commitments and investments in Cuba travel, and many travel agents have deposited trips for clients already on the books for 2017 and 2018. The Trump administration’s plans could adversely affect a lot of businesses.
When Carnival Cruise Line recently announced their new EasyPay payment plan, my initial reaction was that they were coming up with yet more ways to make travel agents less valuable to cruise passengers. After learning more about it, I’m not as concerned.
For as long as I have been in the travel industry, travel agents have had the unique proposition of offering “payment plans” to their clients. Many travel agents liken it to a layaway plan.