Carnival does away with inside-sales team

By Donna Tunney
Agencies won’t be getting any more promotional calls from Carnival Cruise Lines’ inside sales department.

In mid-July, the line quietly dismantled the department, which had been tasked with updating retailers about cruise deals that were offered for short periods of time, often just one day.

Joni Rein, Carnival's vice president for worldwide sales, said the concept wasn’t working.

“They would call about sales promotions by the day, but if the agent didn’t have a client who was ready to buy, those calls didn’t help,” she said. “We monitored the program very closely, and the conversion rate was so poor we couldn’t justify having those folks continue to make the calls.”

She added: “They were actually part of our call-center operation, but they were making only outbound calls. They were very aggressive, and our travel partners told us that wasn’t what they needed.”

So the 16-member team was disbanded, but at the same time Carnival significantly ramped up its “trade-engagement team.”

“We started the trade-engagement division last year, with 12 staff,” Rein said. “These are people who take inbound calls from agents and are available to support our partner community. They help with marketing questions, closing group deals, setting up a cruise event and any other kind of support question.”

The engagement staff was recently expanded by 10 staffers, she said, which doubled its size. Rein said the changes were made because the line's Travel Partners Advisory Committee told Carnival they were what the trade needs.

“Our committee has 35 members, and they represent every business model out there,” Rein said. “They were handpicked — and not by how much they produce but by their passion for selling.”

The line runs a lot of ideas past the committee, Rein said, adding, “They’ve helped us improve communications. Our partners said they really needed an inbound call center where we have dedicated trade engagement associates who would be there for them. It’s more important than outbound call campaigns.”

The engagement staff is not equipped to handle booking problems, Rein said, adding that the engagement team will refer agents with booking problems to the appropriate department.

Some retailers welcomed the news, though they didn’t seem excited about it.

Bill Wodarski, owner of Above and Beyond Travel in Austin, said he sells a lot of Carnival and hadn’t heard of the trade engagement team.

“I do call the line every once in a while,” he said. “If there is an engagement team, it would be nice to talk to someone who could help get a problem solved.”

But for Wodarski, marketing initiatives and cruise events take a backseat to more pressing problems with Carnival.

“The biggest problem we have with them is the nonrefundable fare option,” Wodarski said. “It’s $100 or $200 cheaper for the client, but you can’t even do a name change if you need to. I know they’re trying to get people locked in, I see that, but I see more bad than good in it.”

Donna Speltz, owner of Tampa-based Travel Specialist Inc., said she does “a bunch of business with Carnival,” mostly groups.

“I guess the [engagement team] is a good thing, but I’m not going to be jumping up and down over it,” Speltz said. “It potentially could be helpful.”

Speltz said her agency does little marketing in tandem with the line, noting, “Most of our marketing comes from word-of-mouth referrals.”

Rein said the changes to the inside sales and engagement departments was done “without fanfare” because it’s part of a bigger trade initiative that will be rolled out in the fall, which she said she could not yet discuss.

But Rein did reveal more details about the line’s plan to change its From Your Home to Ours agent training program, which brings home-based agents to the line’s Miami headquarters for a weekend of in-depth instruction.

In 2012, she said, the line will launch From Your Home to Our Homeport, a series of training events that will be held in most of Carnival’s 17 U.S. homeports.

“Fifty percent of the population lives within a five-hour drive of one of our homeports,” Rein said. “So, rather than reaching hundreds of agents with From Your Home to Ours, we can reach 20,000 agents by holding our [training sessions] in our homeport cities."
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