All Discovery Cruising aims to boost North America presence

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Executives at All Discovery Cruising are taking a series of steps to make deeper inroads in the North American market for three niche cruise brands: Voyages of Discovery, Swan Hellenic and Hebridean Island Cruises.

With a strategy focused on the retail distribution system, the firm has converted three marketing positions to key account specialists, who will work closely with agent partners.

Senior marketing director Ivonne Brown was promoted to vice president, sales and marketing, and it's her task to help the brands become better known to U.S. and Canadian travel agents.

Steve Novello, president of All Discovery Cruising-North America, based in Fort Lauderdale, said he believes "the sky's the limit" when it comes to the North American market. "In the past year, we've had bookings from 150 agencies that didn't book with us before," he said.

All Discovery is a unit of Britain-based All Leisure Group, and the three brands are marketed primarily within the U.K.

Improved automation, e-campaigns and promotions and webinars are some of the initiatives that will form the basis of a continued expansion that Novello hopes will result in double-digit increases in North American passengers during the next year.

"Hebridean was never marketed in the States," Novello said. "We started selling it last year, and we reached $1 million in sales.

"We hope to triple the capacity out of North America next year," he added, "and if we do, it will still represent less than 5% of the brand's passengers."

Swan Hellenic, he noted, has name recognition in the U.S. -- the brand name was previously owned by Carnival Corp. -- and Novello predicted that North Americans will make up 15% of passengers in 2012.

"With Voyages of Discovery, the U.K. bosses want me to get North American passengers up to 40%. It took me all weekend to stop laughing at that one," he joked. "In reality we're looking at 20% to 25%."

Brown said that she and the account specialists will be "much more targeted" in the way they approach the brands' top-selling agents. "We want to make them feel that they are part of our family of brands," she said.

"When agents make bookings, we pay them commission, but that's not a good, personalized way to deal with them," Novello added. "We send a thank-you letter, sometimes with bonus certificates; we catch up with them every month; we offer to help with initiatives."

The creation of the vice president and key account staff positions followed several brand announcements, which were made last month.

The 550-passenger Voyager, which All Leisure Group bought in 2009, is joining the Voyages of Discovery brand. Formerly the Alexander von Humboldt, the ship has received technical upgrades and more balcony cabins. The brand already operates the 698-passenger Discovery, and that ship also is slated for a renovation during winter 2012-13.

Swan Hellenic this winter will refurbish its 350-passenger Minerva. Balconies will be added to 32 cabins, and upgrades will be made to the ship's efficiency and environmental performance.

Hebridean next year will launch a river cruise program. The brand's 79-passenger Royal Crown, which was renovated in 2010, will be deployed for seven-day Rhine River sailings in the spring and Danube River sailings in the fall.

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