Brand knowledge is the key to success for agents, at least when it comes to selling cruises, according to Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald.
"The future, in my mind, for a travel professional to really do well is knowledge, and information, and understanding -- the ability to screen your own clients and give them the experience that's really going to resonate for them," he said during a keynote discussion at last month's New York Times Travel Show that was geared toward an audience of travel professionals.
"I want you to do that even if it's not on my ship," he continued. "I don't compete with the other cruise companies. I need them to be full. If they're not full, what are they going to do? They're going to drop their prices to fill up their cabins. That doesn't help me.
"So I need them to be full with the right people, and I need mine to be full with the right people, so we keep building and building and building."
Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corp., at the New York Times Travel Show.
Each of Carnival Corp.'s brands caters to a different psychographic of cruisers, he said. As for demographics, mostly all income levels, geographic locations and generations are represented on each brand, he said, making psychographics the more important factor when it comes to differentiating brands.
"All of you are in different psychographic segments at different times," he said as an example. "So if you are traveling with your spouse, and you're interested in romance, that's one psychographic segment. If you're traveling with your kids, that's another one. If you're traveling with college buddies, you want to celebrate a reunion or something, that's a very different thing."
The challenge for the company becomes helping educate agents on brand differentiation and which psychographics fit which particular brand, according to Donald.
"If you get them on the right experience, they'll cruise for life," he said. "If you get a Seabourn person on Carnival, and that's their first experience, they'll hate cruising. If you get a Carnival person on Seabourn, they're going to hate cruising. And so what you have to do is really understand what the individuals want."
As an example, Donald described the likely difference between cruisers on Holland America Line and Princess. Demographically, the two brands would have very similar cruisers when it comes to age and income. But they draw very different types of cruisers.
"If you were in Ketchikan, Alaska, you could stand there and you could point and say 'Princess,' 'Holland America,' because what they really are interested in is different," Donald said. Of Holland America cruisers, he said, "They like going to the museums and on the tour buses." Meanwhile, he said, "Princess folks want to sea kayak to the museum themselves."
Donald said that agents were "absolutely critical" to the company's business and are the sales channel most likely to match a cruiser with their ideal brand -- hence his suggestion that the better educated an agent is on brands, the better they'll do now and in the future, sales-wise.
The best way to get the right cruisers, who he called "lifelong advocates," is with a trained agent.