Travel Weekly's Johanna Jainchill spent three days on Oceania's new ship, the Marina, on a preview cruise for executives' friends and family, travel agents and journalists. Her third and final dispatch follows.
Dispatch, Marina 3: According to its executives, Oceania Cruises managed to get through the recession without slashing prices or seeing its booking curve contract.
While many cruise lines are struggling to get prices back to pre-recession levels, Oceania founder Frank Del Rio said that last year it set a pricing record and this year rates are already up double digits over 2010.
Del Rio isn’t sharing trade secrets, but said a combination of tactics has contributed to its success, including a very pro-travel agent sales strategy.
According to agents on the Marina’s inaugural cruise, as well as Oceania’s own actions and numbers, it is among the most agent-friendly of cruise brands.
During the inaugural ceremony for the Marina in Miami on Feb. 7, Del Rio and Oceania President Bob Binder gave shout-outs to the travel agents in attendance — 500 of the line’s top producers.
“The real superstars are the travel agents,” said Del Rio during the ceremony. “They account for 95% of our sales.”
That number is quite high in the industry. Del Rio said during the three-day preview cruise that Oceania does not really have a direct-sales strategy besides a sentence on its collateral materials that says to call a travel agent or call us.
“Five percent call us,” he said. “We are not anti-consumer, we are pro-agency.”
Del Rio would not say that Oceania’s pro-agency’s stance is the reason the line is doing well, but said that whatever Oceania is doing is working, including its decision to not slash prices.
“When prices drop, it ruins brands,” he said. “That is why it is so important to maintain pricing integrity. Occupancy and bookings are back [for us]. Pricing is not [back up] for many cruise lines.”
Del Rio said that Oceania has been very careful to let both travel agents and consumers know that there is no advantage to booking Oceania cruises last minute.
“We are in a most enviable position,” he said. “We have trained the consumer and travel agent to believe that it is better to book early because the prices will only rise.”
As for how much its travel agent strategy has to do with its success, Del Rio said it’s impossible to know what individual policies work.
“The package works,” he said. “Our pricing strategy works and the relationships we have with our major accounts work. If it works, you leave it alone. As long as the ships continue to sail full, we’ll continue to do what we're doing.”
Travel agents at the Marina’s inaugural said they hope that’s exactly what Oceania does.
“The one thing I find about this company is they are believable,” said Greg Nacco, vice president of Cruise Specialists in Seattle. “When they say something you can believe it. They have a passion around what they are trying to do. A lot of that is driven by Frank [Del Rio].
“Great leaders are able to transfer that passion and strategy so that as a whole the company moves in the direction they want. Frank has done a brilliant job in that, and it goes beyond the employees and transfers to the agent community.”