On the Crown Princess inaugural sailing
out of New York last month, Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises senior
vice president of customer service and sales, was excited about the
new ships restaurants, sanctuary and piazza-style atrium. But the
one thing she couldnt stop talking about was Princess Academy, the
online training program the cruise line launched in June.
The online school
for travel agents is like a college of Princess cruises. Agents
take courses and then get quizzed. They can choose electives on
topics such as group sales and wedding programs, and as they pass
tests they move up. As in college, participants receive credits for
completing the program, in this case eight from the Travel
Institute. Unlike college, its free. Graduates at the highest level
are rewarded with a free Princess cruise.
distribution business is incredibly competitive, said Swartz. The
best way for agents to distinguish themselves from the competition
is on expertise and with their service. We realized we could be
providing better support in helping agents develop that
Many cruise lines
have recently created online training programs. Carnival Cruise
Lines introduced Carnival University Online in early May. Crystal
unveiled an online learning academy on July 1.
International is in the process of putting together an online
training certification program. Disney put its College of Disney
Knowledge on line this year, which includes a section on
Cruise West has an online training program and recently introduced
a series of webinars with Lisa Haneberg, a consultant on
organizational success and development. The series will end this
respond to a travel distribution network that is increasingly
dispersed and increasingly tech-savvy.
People want to
learn on their own time schedule, said Vicki Freed, senior vice
president of sales and marketing at Carnival. They dont want to go
to a class; they want to do it on their lunch break, at home, on
Freed said agents
brought the idea of creating such a training program to her last
fall. With the increase in home-based agents and agents with second
jobs, Freed understood that the courses needed to be informative
but not too long and basic enough that you dont need an MBA to get
A popular course,
she said, is Special Sales: Group and Cruising for Charity, a
chapter that offers tips on developing group business, especially
Cruises Academy is the only program of this type that agents have
to pay for. The course is $30, but agents get a $100 bonus on their
first booking following completion of the course.
Wittenau, Crystals director of business development and group
sales, said that 72% of the lines customers in 2005 reported
switching from premium and mass-market lines. This was Crystals cue
that agents needed to be versed on the brands value proposition
relative to premium lines and other luxury lines.
The program was
introduced to agents at Crystals top earners gala in
course compared the costs incurred during a day on an unnamed
premium cruise line with a day on Crystal. It showed that items
such as cocktails in the casino, cappuccinos, laundry, soda and
yoga are free on Crystal and extra on the premium line, making the
cost of the cruises comparable.
focus on distinguishing Crystals product from other luxury lines
There are great
choices in luxury and premium cruising, von Wittenau said. The
consumer may not necessarily know the differences. Silversea does
an excellent job, but theyre a different type of cruise line than
Like Freed, he
pointed to the dispersed agent community.
We do seminars in
various cities, but maybe [agents] are out of town or its not on
their schedule, von Wittenau said. Maybe that was their one
opportunity to see a Crystal presentation. Now they have the option
to go in at their leisure.
The Cruise Lines
International Association, which offers a series of comprehensive
training programs to agents, supports the lines educational
Our member lines
are the best at presenting their own products, and CLIA is the best
at showing agents how to book clients on CLIA-member lines, said
Terry Dale, CLIAs president and CEO.
expressed appreciation for online courses by taking them. Princess
said 4,000 agents had taken 22,000 courses a month after the
owner of Best Cruises in Edison, N.J., has taken all of the courses
available at Princess Academy. Well on his way to achieving
Commodore status (and a free cruise), Sturman was so impressed by
the quality of the course that he was considering making it
mandatory for his staff to take classes or to award them for taking
We know how much
we dont know, so were always interested in something like this, he
said. Im not aware of a program in a format like this with an
organized course of study and some kind of incentive. This is not
lip service when talking about commitment to the agency
president of Alice Travel in Fairfield, N.J., said he finds the
programs worthwhile as a supplement to, not a replacement for,
district sales managers personal visits.
I like the DSM in
my own office, and I think that for new agents they have great
relevance, he said.
Talking to the
DSM and being able to answer specific problems and being updated
and trained is something we believe in.
Davis has his key
vendors come in once a month. He will encourage his staff to take
the courses, but he recognized that it may be difficult for them to
find the time. But any extra education, he believes, is of
The only thing
our agents have to offer the supplier is being able to
differentiate one product from another, Davis said. The more you
learn about that differential and can absorb it, you will be better
off to expound upon it to your client.
To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].