Competitors expected to closely watch Carnival ancillary service

By Tom Stieghorst
A new “Faster to the Fun” program set to debut next week on the Carnival Imagination will be closely watched by competitors, said agents interviewed about the program.

For $49.95 per cabin, passengers can get a premium package of services that includes early embarkation and cabin availability and express baggage-delivery service to their cabin. Also included are priority dinner seatings and tender availability, and choice of early or late disembarkation.

CarnivalImagination-Fun“I’m sure everyone will let Carnival test this out,” said Jeff Gordon, president of the Gordon Group in Davie, Fla. “If they have some success, I’m sure they’ll all jump on the bandwagon.”

That was the pattern when airlines began charging extra for options such as checked bags and priority seating. Fees have become a substantial part of airline revenue as a result.

Carnival said it would launch a pilot program to evaluate the model beginning with the Aug. 20 cruise on the Carnival Imagination and the Aug. 25 voyage of the Carnival Liberty. Both ships sail from Miami.

Agents said the program, announced Aug. 7, is too new to have drawn much notice from passengers yet.

Gordon said that because there is no commission attached to it, his agency would not actively promote it but would certainly handle any requests.

Jack Cooley, a Cruise Planners franchisee in Dallas, said some of the features will appeal to passengers.

“The biggest perk will be getting the bag to the room early,” Cooley said. “People don’t want to wait until the evening to get their clothes and get changed.”

Kevin Saxe, vice president of Carlisle Incentives/CruiseMagic in Albany, Calif., said conditions are ripe for the new program.

“As the ships get larger and there are more people competing for resources, I think that they’ll definitely get some takers,” Saxe said.

Most of the perks in “Faster to the Fun” are already available to Platinum- and Diamond-level members of Carnival’s VIFP (Very Important Fun Person) club. Carnival said those frequent cruisers will continue to enjoy priority access over “Faster to the Fun” passengers.

Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen also said the program will be capacity-controlled so that it doesn’t become oversubscribed. Carnival has not disclosed how many guests can sign up before participation is curtailed.

Although “Faster to the Fun” was developed based on guest surveys which indicated demand for it, agents said that generally clients don’t complain about cruise services being too slow or involving too much waiting.

Still, Saxe said that for a family that has saved all year to go on vacation, an extra $50 to guarantee that they won’t waste time is “a no-brainer.”

Saxe said Carnival is also cleverly taking the opportunity to add some incremental revenue by recognizing passengers’ need to feel special.

“I think Carnival is looking at the customer and seeing all the little ancillary products that people will pay for,” he said.
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