With agent reference back in Carnival ads, retailers applaud

By Tom Stieghorst
CCL adCarnival Cruise Lines’ return to referencing travel agents during a call to action at the end of its TV commercials got a warm reception from several travel agents, although one suggested it was overdue.

“I think that’s fabulous,” said Monica Ambriz of Anytime Anywhere Travel in Antioch, Calif., outside San Francisco. “Anything that gets the word out that travel agents still exist is good.”

Carnival said that beginning this fall it will include a call-to-action feature at the end of its 30-second TV spots. It said the feature will suggest that viewers “contact a travel professional, Carnival.com or 1 (800) Carnival.” It didn’t specify whether the call-to-action will appear as a visual or be spoken in a voiceover.

A longer, 60-second version of the commercial will not feature the call to action, but will end with a simple image and brand logo, Carnival said.

Carnival said it last incorporated a call to action in its TV advertising in 2010.

“We’ve heard loud and clear from travel agents that in order to build business together, we need to do a better job of guiding the millions of consumers we reach through our marketing initiatives to contact a travel agent,” said Joni Rein, Carnival’s vice president of worldwide sales. “We are so excited to introduce this message with our new fall television campaign and hope it will drive visibility to the value of using a travel agent when consumers decide to book a cruise.”

Rein said the inspiration for returning to a call to action came from the line’s travel agent outreach program, Carnival Conversations, launched in early July. It has held agent forums on ships in New York, New Orleans and Port Canaveral, with more scheduled.

Some agents expressed mixed emotions about the TV plug.

“It’s about time!” said Marlys Aballi, owner of Connection to Cruise in Redlands, Calif., who said she feels that Carnival’s website has taken priority over travel agent referrals for too long.

Aballi said she sells quite a bit of Carnival, especially the shorter cruises out of West Coast ports, and she emphasized that Carnival isn’t the only cruise line that has sought to increase direct bookings.

She said Carnival could be doing more to help travel agents. A small example she cited would be to move the white space provided for travel agent contact information from the back of its brochures to the front.

Suggestions like that are what Carnival executives say they had in mind when they launched Carnival Conversations. In addition to the road shows, there were sections for travel agent feedback created on the GoCCL agent website.

Ideas adopted so far by Carnival after the program’s launch include a move to simplify the number of fare categories and promotional codes and reforms to make booking groups on Carnival easier and more rewarding.

Carnival plans a major marketing push this fall to fuel its recovery from a price slump that followed the Carnival Triumph engine fire in February. Agents are being wooed as part of the overall strategy.

Jo-Ann Moss, a Cruise Planners franchisee in West Linn, Ore., outside of Portland, said she’s encouraged by the attention.

“I’ve got some clients who won’t sail on anything but Carnival,” Moss said. “I’m thrilled for their renewed appreciation.”

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly
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