Agent sales critical, especially for small cruise lines

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The CruiseWorld Presidents Panel, from left: Moderator Arnie Weissmann from Travel Weekly, Windstar's John Delaney, Crystal's Edie Rodriguez, MSC's Roberto Fusaro and Norwegian Cruise Line's Andy Stuart.
The CruiseWorld Presidents Panel, from left: Moderator Arnie Weissmann from Travel Weekly, Windstar's John Delaney, Crystal's Edie Rodriguez, MSC's Roberto Fusaro and Norwegian Cruise Line's Andy Stuart. Photo Credit: Eric Moya

FORT LAUDERDALE -- A panel of cruise line presidents reaffirmed their commitment to agents and tackled topics such as brand differentiation and the relevance of cruise line categories on Friday, the final day of the CruiseWorld show here.

At the beginning of the panel, co-moderated by Mary Pat Sullivan and Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann, Crystal Cruises CEO Edie Rodriguez expressed her gratitude to agents.

"Agents are paramount to us," she said. "I'm sure most cruise lines, if they were truthful, would tell you probably about 50% of their bookings come direct and the other 50% through travel consultants. At all things Crystal, over 90% of our bookings come through you guys. ... It is a partnership, it is a symbiotic relationship. We need your help."

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Windstar Cruises president John Delaney said that it is important for small-ship lines such as Windstar to get its brand message out to agents at events like CruiseWorld. Following up on Rodriguez's comments, he said: "We're not one of the 50% brands. We are very highly travel agent-sourced."

On the subject of whether ship classifications are still relevant, Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Andy Stuart said, "I don't really worry about it," adding that although parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has worked hard to differentiate its three brands -- Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises -- a ship such as the Norwegian Escape offers experiences at a variety of price points.

"We'll have guests on that ship who have saved all year. They're in an inside stateroom and they've paid $900, and they're thrilled. It's their week of a lifetime," he said. "Then we'll have people in the Haven who spent $20,000 for that same seven days. So to try to buttonhole the person on that ship into any category, I think, is very difficult."

The mission for agents, Stuart said, is to decide whether a luxury client would be better suited to something like the Haven, which was designed to fill a gap in the luxury category for younger couples and families, or a sailing with Regent, which targets an older demographic.

Rodriguez said that ship categories "need to exist."

"In luxury, a true luxury guest doesn't want to be with other people who are not in their category," she said. "They want that intimacy of smaller ships."

As at many CruiseWorld sessions over the previous two days, the subject of the presidential election came up. Delaney said that he hoped that Cuba "remains open as a destination," and joked that with new cruise lines such as Viking and Virgin, he was glad president-elect Donald Trump, as a hotelier and thus a part of the travel industry, was too busy this year to launch a Trump cruise line. "At least it keeps the industry a little smaller," he said.

MSC Cruises president Roberto Fusaro echoed sentiments expressed by other panelists in saying that post-election, potential clients are more comfortable making spending decisions: "The decision is clear one way or the other."

He said that while there is uncertainty about what Trump's election might mean for the industry -- "there wasn't a lot of policy discussion during the campaign" -- he said the cruise industry "has shown to be very resilient ... and I think the growth path will continue."

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