Sell what you need to in order to survive, cruise execs tell agents

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Moderator Mary Pat Sullivan of Sullivan Marketing Advisors and participants in the Mastermind Momentum Moments panel at CruiseWorld.
Moderator Mary Pat Sullivan of Sullivan Marketing Advisors and participants in the Mastermind Momentum Moments panel at CruiseWorld.

Given the symbiotic relationship that cruise lines and travel advisors have enjoyed, it might sound strange for cruise executives to encourage advisors to book travel outside of cruising. But that is exactly what they did on Wednesday at CruiseWorld, the Northstar Travel Group-sponsored event held virtually for the first time this year.

During the Mastermind Momentum Moments panel, several executives said agents should diversify their business mix and sell whatever they can now to survive the coronavirus pandemic, because they will be needed by those cruise lines more than ever on the other side of Covid-19.

Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and trade support and service at Royal Caribbean International, was among those who encouraged advisors to cast a wider net with their sales, especially to make it through the pandemic. Freed isn't worried about attracting land vacationers back to cruising, either. She said often, cruisers who take land vacations are quick to want to return to cruising for the value and the experience they have onboard ships.

Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president of sales and trade support and service at Celebrity Cruises, agreed.

"We need our agencies," she said. "We can't survive without the travel advisor community, and right now we need them to sell anything and everything that they can sell to sustain themselves."

MSC Cruises' Michelle Lardizabal, senior vice president and commercial sales officer, also sounded unconcerned about attracting land vacationers back to cruising once ships start sailing again.

"I think as people experience land vacations they'll also, if they've cruised before, understand the beauty of the cruise experience," she said.

The cruise executives also talked about the importance of keeping a positive attitude despite the current climate.

"There is a future, and it will come sooner, not later," said John Chernesky, senior vice president of North America sales for Princess Cruises and Cunard Line. "It's a tough time, but I maintain optimism  At its core, it's just a great business to be in."

When cruising does resume again, there will be some fundamental changes. Panel moderator Mary Pat Sullivan, president of Sullivan Marketing Advisors, asked which changes the executives will be grateful for.

Health and safety protocols will be enhanced, Freed said. That will bring with it some inherent benefits, like Royal Caribbean's new Muster 2.0 initiative that keeps large groups of people from having to attend a muster drill at the same time. The muster drill was consistently the one thing cruisers reported not enjoying, Freed said.

There will also be more doctors and nurses aboard ships as well as enhanced medical centers with things like intensive care units.

"In the event that something happens, you're going to have more people able to care for people," Freed said. "And we don't expect anything to happen, but this is life. There are speedbumps."

Katina Athanasiou, Norwegian Cruise Line's chief sales officer, said she believes there will be a fundamental shift in the way consumers book cruising. While many already used travel advisors before, she said she expects more will turn to agencies in the future.

"Consumers want to know that they have a collaborative and advisory lens that is working for and with [them], on their behalf the whole entire vacation experience," she said, "and only a travel advisor can provide that."

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