Carnival UK is ramping up its support of agents this year, with a host of new ship visits, its sales bosses have revealed.
Speaking ahead of the UK Cruise Awards, which took place at The Roundhouse in Camden and were attended by a record 240 travel agents, the UK sales bosses of each cruise line told TTG they wanted more agents than ever to experience their ships.
Cunard UK sales director Gary Anslow said in honour of the line’s 180th anniversary this year, Cunard was planning to host 180 agents on fams throughout 2020. “That marks a 30% increase,” he said. “We’ve previously seen an upturn in sales from travel agents who have experienced the product. We’re keen to recognise loyal travel agents but new-to-cruise agents are essential as well.”
It came as Anslow revealed some 10,500 agents had now registered with Cunard’s Shine Rewards programme since its launch a year ago. “We’re talking to four times as many travel agents as this time last year,” he added.
Meanwhile P&O will be hosting a thousand agents onboard new ship Iona in May, with places onboard Ionafest – P&O’s celebrity-packed event to launch its newest ship in July – also on offer to agents. “We’re focused on getting as many agents onboard as we can,” said P&O’s director of trade sales Nathaniel Sherborne.
He added that 16,000 agents were now signed up to P&O’s Shine Rewards Club, with increasing numbers of travel consultants now using the points they’ve accrued to use on their own cruise holidays. “We all recognise that experiencing the product can make a real difference,” said Sherborne.
Karen Farndell Princess Cruises’ sales director said more than a thousand agents would be hosted on Enchanted Princess, which launches in June. The line is also planning a “fully immersive Ocean Medallion experience” for its ship visit programme, with an additional 1,250 agents invited to try out the line’s wearable tech in 13 different ports around the UK this year. “We want to get agents to really see what it’s like to use Ocean Medallion,” she said.
Holland America Line and Seabourn are also “planning events around the country”, said director of sales Wendy Lahmich. She added that this year would also see the launch of GoSeabourn – “a new and updated version of our online travel agent centre which will provide agents with more tools”.
Meanwhile Carnival Cruise Line will host agents onboard Carnival Legend when it sails to the UK this year with ship visits in Dover, Belfast and Cork. “This is the first time we’ve done UK ship visits since 2013,” said Luke Smith, head of international sales. “We want to get 100 agents across the three days”. The line will also host 100 agents on Carnival Radiance in Barcelona in May.
Elsewhere Carnival Cruise Line will be rolling out its US “Why use a travel agent?” campaign in the UK, dispelling myths about the travel trade. Celebrities including Love Island’s Dr Alex will feature in marketing collateral for agents to then use. “It’s been a massive success in the US,” said Luke Smith, head of international sales for the line.
Elsewhere, the sales bosses agreed 2020 bookings had enjoyed a strong start compared with last year, after admitting to TTG in 2019 sales had been much softer due to Brexit and consumer uncertainty.
“The second week of January this year saw bookings really start to pick up,” said Anslow. “We’re really pleased – Alaska and Europe are doing well for us, in particular the Baltics and Fjords, as well as our Round the World 2022 sailings.”
Sherborne agreed and said the announcement of Gary Barlow as P&O’s brand ambassador had also provided a helpful boost. “Iona has been booking really well,” he said, adding that the fjords were also “proving to be really popular” for the line.
Farndell said sales for Princess Cruises were up around 30%, naming Alaska, Hawaii and the British Isles as top destinations.
Alaska also remains strong for Holland America Line, said Lahmich, “along with South America, Europe and the Caribbean”.
All agreed the recent political certainty following the UK’s move to finally leave the EU had helped boost consumer confidence – at least for now.
“We do monthly surveys with our guests and Brexit seems to be less of a concern for customers,” said Sherborne. He said bookings for 2021 (after the Brexit transition period has come to an end on December 31 2020) were also proving strong. “There’s nothing to suggest that people are concerned by it,” he added.
Smith agreed, and said bookings for Carnival – which tend to be made further in advance due to its ships being in predominantly long-haul locations – were strong. “We’ve no concerns for 2021,” he said.
All were unanimous in agreement that the many ship launches into the market – from Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady and Celebrity Cruises’ Apex, to P&O’s Iona and Princess’s Enchanted Princess – would also provide the overall industry with a helpful boost this year.
It creates a “great halo effect” for the sector, said Farndell. “There’s so much positive news about cruise,” added Sherborne. “It’s going to be an amazing year.”