Monday, 30 September 2013

Cruise CEOs debate on panel at ASTA Global Convention

Cruise CEOs debate on panel at ASTA Global Convention

By Gay Nagle Myers
MIAMI — In a lively panel presentation at the ASTA Global Convention, three competing cruise line executives discussed the challenges of balancing onboard experiences with customer preferences, the importance of destinations in cruise choices and the most effective strategies for selling cruises.

The discussion, moderated by Arnie Weissmann, editor-in-chief of Travel Weekly, was spirited, at times contentious, and the audience of 450 or so broke into applause and laughter several times.
_ Richard FainWith the cruise market now encompassing age groups from babies to boomers and well beyond, “the beauty of cruising is that we can appeal to great demographics that evolve as public demand evolves,” decreed Richard Fain, chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “Our ships offer elements that appeal across the spectrum.”

The solo traveler, a market ignored for years, is now being tapped by Norwegian Cruise Line, said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian’s president and CEO.

“Our Breakaway ship relates to the solo traveler as well as other age groups in the type of onboard experiences we offer,” Sheehan said. “This is the future of cruising, and we have to continue to be on the cutting edge, not the bleeding edge, of the industry.”

He added that the demographics of the cruise market emphasize the role of travel agents because the choices for the consumer are so overwhelming.

“Agents are the critical part of this equation and we need to simplify choices for agents and show that we are more consistent than in the past,” Sheehan said.

Key differences between river and ocean cruising were emphasized by Viking Cruises Chairman Torstein Hagen.

“Viking is a river cruise line, and we say that the destination is key,” Hagen said. “We can show your clients Europe; we can show them culture and geography. The onboard cruise experience is not that important to us, and this has worked out well.”

Viking’s customers are 55-plus, “have worked hard, are retired or should be,” Hagen said. “I don’t need to climb rock walls on cruise ships, and neither do they. Let’s be definite about who our customers are.”

Even so, Viking is about to venture into ocean cruising with four ships currently on order. “Two are financed, and we’re working on the others,” Hagen said.
Viking’s first ship, which will carry 928 passengers, enters service in April 2015 in the Mediterranean. It is 80% sold out and is being marketed as an all-inclusive to the 55-and-older segment, he said.
Torstein HagenThere will be no babies, no screaming teenagers, no casinos or water slides,” Hagen said.

Fain agreed that destinations are key because they are “the starting point of the decision-making process. Where appropriate, our ships stay in port for two to three days for destination immersion, but offering the customer variety, value and choice are important,” he said.

Sheehan asserted that Viking does not have a lock on the 55-plus market.

“Norwegian offers the right situation for that age group,” Sheehan said. “Our cruises are multigenerational and have attributes for that experience. We offer a destination on the ship and a destination off the ship.”

Fain said that he saw shared enjoyment as being a key element of cruising.

“My grandchildren like to climb the rock walls. I like to watch them,” Fain said. “Cruise lines need to communicate all that we offer and get the message out that cruising isn’t just for sedentary people.”

As for all-inclusive cruise pricing, Sheehan said the issue is complicated.

“We’re faced with the competitive nature of pricing,” he said. “All-inclusive knocks you out of the market. Cruise prices haven’t moved for about 20 years, which has forced the industry to come up with new ways to be profitable.”

Some Norwegian customers, he said, book a cruise, then don’t spend a dime throughout their time on ship, while others dine in the specialty restaurants every night and rack up some bar bills as well.

In such a market, “It’s hard to have one-size-fits-all pricing,” Sheehan said.

Hagen disagreed.

“All-inclusive is our standard on the river ships and will be on the ocean ships, with wine and beer at meals and free shore excursions,” Hagen said. “Our customers are not gamblers, so we don’t have casinos and we use that space for more staterooms.”

Viking, he said, does not aspire to be everything for everyone.

“I took my mother on a cruise 10 years ago,” the 70-year-old Hagen recalled. “I like to think of our demographic as mature people and their parents.”

In fact, he said, he told the New York Times several years ago that the difference between ocean and river cruising is that “Ocean cruising is a drinking man’s cruise; river cruising is a thinking man’s cruise.”

Fain interrupted at that point in the discussion, saying. “There are so many softballs in the air right now, I want to hit some.”

He pointed out that Celebrity’s cruise to Galapagos “is practically all-inclusive. We spend a lot of time on shore, and sea lions don’t accept tips.”
Kevin Sheehan, CEOEven so, Fain continued, “The industry has grown, and so have the options. Now, there is a cornucopia of choices. On an all-inclusive cruise, you are not making the customer pay for extras, but you are not offering him any choices.”

Sheehan said that Norwegian had considered river cruise products at one point but decided in the end that “we have an unbelievable product, and we will keep it that way.”

Hinting that it would be interesting to take a river cruise, Sheehan glanced at Hagen, then sighed, “You look tight, so I don’t expect much,” he said.

Despite the rise of the Internet, Royal Caribbean gets very few bookings that way, Fain said.

“The role of the travel agent is very robust in the cruise industry. The agent remains a dominant force for all of us,” he said.

But there is a trade-off in that relationship, Sheehan said: “It is our job to keep agents relevant, and it is the agents’ responsibility to be on the edge of what is happening.”

Hagen managed to get in the last word before time ran out.

“Viking’s business is up 35% this year,” he said, “and I attribute that to the great support we get from agents. We were the first line to abandon noncommissionable fees, and we pay 5% commission on air and shore excursions.”

Celebrity Cruises introduces mobile gambling

Celebrity Cruises introduces mobile gambling

By Tom Stieghorst

Celebrity Cruises has partnered with Las Vegas-based Cantor Gaming to offer mobile gambling ship-wide on smartphones and tablets.

Mobile gambling will be available on five Solstice-class ships and four Millennium-class vessels. To play, customers download Cantor's mobile casino app and establish a "virtual wallet" account at the onboard casino.

Slots, table games and video poker games will be playable ship-wide via WiFi connections.

"This state-of-the-art technology allows guests to play outside of the action-filled casino, whether relaxing by the pool, or waiting for their partner to get ready for their night of onboard dining and drinks, and will be an excellent addition to the edgy entertainment we offer onboard,” Greg Purdy, Celebrity's vice president of operations, said in a statement.

Like the actual casino, the mobile casino will only be open when the ship is in international waters.


We at We Travel 2U Blog do encourage any type of gambling in any type or form. It is up to the individual involved. If you think you require help or assistance please visit your own countrys helpline, Thank you

Carnival to build new Barcelona cruise terminal

Carnival to build new Barcelona cruise terminal

By Tom Stieghorst
Carnival Corp. and the port of Barcelona reached an agreement on the construction of a new $27 million cruise terminal that will handle post-Panamax sized ships.

The terminal will be about 107,000 square feet, large enough to accommodate 4,500 people. It is expected to open in 2016.

Carnival already operates a terminal at the port, which will be expanded by about 14,000 square feet. Both terminals are on the Adossat Wharf.

Carnival will invest the $27 million and run the terminal as a concession. The port will invest about $2.7 million on roads and other infrastructure and about $2 million on signage.

Barcelona is the fourth-busiest cruise port in the world, with an estimated passenger volume of 2.6 million passengers this year.

Post-Panamax or over-Panamax denote ships larger than Panamax that do not fit in the canal, such as supertankers and the largest modern container ships. The "largest oil tanker in the world"—whichever ship held the title at the time—has not been able to transit the Panama Canal at least since the Idemitsu Maru was launched in the 1960s; it carried about 150,000 deadweight tons. All US Navy aircraft carriers since USS Midway have been in the post-Panamax class

Post-Panamax ships

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Carnival Legend- Review Baltic Cruise- Dover to St. Petersburg.

Carnival Legend- Review
Baltic Cruise- Dover to St. Petersburg.

My Cruise photos can be seen on Flickr 

We had sailed on 4 other companies (Costa, Royal,NCL and MSC) and between us have all ways said that there are good points and some great points in all the companies, example we like NCL Freestyle Dining, and MSC style, so joining Carnival Legend for the first time from Dover was going to be an experience, the check-in at Dover was the best we have ever had, we were on-board having a wee dram by 11am, that was a first for us. Legend is an exact layout as the Costa Mediterranea which was our first ship, happy memories. She is a lovely ship which needs a dry dock which she is having i Jan 14 (I think) before going down under, just to spruce her up a bit.

The food in the main dining room was excellent with always a Didja Ever option on the menu, which we enjoyed trying that something different such as Alligator, Frogs Legs, and Snails. The service was very good and a waiter dance at 7:15 in the evening, which they grabbed a willing volunteer in my wife, she enjoyed it and i enjoyed videoing the show for evidence and later brownie points when needed.

The show's where the best we had seen on any cruise before, the dancers were fantastic, and the singers were top notch. Head of Entertainment John Heard was an excellent compare, and was always willing to chat when seen around the ship. the entertainers around the ship were average and we have seen better on the Norwegian Jade, there seemed to be too many quiz's and not enough music.

The tours were well organised and seemed to be a fair price considering the tours of St. Petersberg and a train trip to Berlin.

The shops on board were the normal offerings such as a Logo/tee shirt shop, a sweet shop, and a top end Jewellers. The photo gallery was the largest selling the mandatory on-board pics, places of interest pics, and a camera and accessory section.

Overall I would not hesitate to join a Carnival Cruise again, and we enjoyed the company of our fellow passengers, especially those pesky Canadians, who we keep in-touch with. Thanks to all who served and cleaned up after us.

If anyone who sailed on the same Baltic Cruise as us, we were the Stars of the cruise from the Welsh Non-Romantic Couple.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Are some people really affected by cruise shame?

Are some people really affected by cruise shame?

your retirement planMost of us on this site are keen fans of cruising and are only too happy to get into conversations with others about our favourite ships and destinations.

But it seems not everyone feels the same way. In fact, a survey conducted by Leger Holidays suggests that approximately one in eight people is actually too embarrassed to book a cruise holiday in case other people find out.
This probably says more about them than their holiday choices, but as with anything that people feel strongly about, it is possible for insecurity to set in.

After all, it was only earlier this month that Fred Olsen's marketing director Nathan Philpot suggested that the backlash against BBC docu-soap The Cruise: A Life at Sea was a result of the industry's own hang-ups over perceptions of cruising as a pastime for older holidaymakers.

He went so far as to suggest that instead, cruise lines should stop worrying so much what others think and be proud to chase the over 55s market, which is where the stats suggest most cruise holidaymakers come from.

It's not just cruises that the Leger research suggests Brits are embarrassed about. People are also likely to downplay trips to holiday parks, coach holidays and solo holidays.

It seems the crux of the issue is that, for half of people at least, holidays are perceived as a reflection of how interesting they are, according to the Daily Mail.

What do you think? Have you ever been ashamed to talk about your preference for cruises? Or are you proud of your holiday choices?

Divers find bodies near Concordia wreck

Divers find bodies near Concordia wreck

Divers off the coast of Giglio believe they may have found the bodies of the two missing passengers from the Costa Concordia.

While 32 people were declared dead in the wake of the tragedy last year, two of those passengers were actually unaccounted for.

It was hoped that they would be found once the ship was refloated and it seems as if this is the case. According to reports, remains were discovered that are consistent with the victims whose bodies were never recovered.

They won't know for sure until DNA testing has been carried out, however.

ABC news reports that Franco Gabrielli, head of the civil protection agency in Italy, said recovering the bodies after they had spent 20 months under the weight of the 114,500-tonne vessel was "almost a miracle".

The Concordia was transporting approximately 4,000 passengers when it struck a reef close to shore and capsized. Since its refloating earlier this month, the full extent of the damage to the ship has been plain to see.

Bright On Travel: Optimise to convert and keep your customers and Google happy

Bright On Travel: Optimise to convert and keep your customers and Google happy

By Travolution
By Travolution

Optimising for conversion rather than driving traffic volume must be travel firms’ main priority to make their marketing budgets sweat.
Paul Holdgate, the newly-recruited head of digital at Brighton-based agency CWTdigital told the first Bright On Travel event this week that travel has been too focused on last click.
The half-day conference was organised by CWTdigital to coincide with the annual month-long Brighton Digital Festival and supported by Travolution as media partner.
Holdgate said: “Google has made it absolutely clear through its two latest updates that will no longer tolerate any spammy links or content.
“What I propose is you stop chasing the algorithm and develop a consumer-centric approach.
“Take a step back and map out the customer journey - think about every stage from that first inspirational content point.
“Travel is so competitive we tend to focus on the last click, but what we need to do is sow the seed earlier.
“Your consumer wants content served to them through the right medium, the right platform and at the right time in their journey. Central to this approach is personalisation.”
Holdgate, who previously worked for Tui Travel’s specialist division, said websites should be respected in the same way by online retailers as shopfronts on the high street.
He suggested firms ban talking about offline versus online marketing and hone in on the targets and customers they need to be profitable.
At Tui, while driving traffic was important, optimising conversions was the key focus as marketing funds were tight and it was important to make them work hard.
“Rather than just focus on driving quality traffic, let’s get the percentage conversion right up and this will impact directly on your bottom line targets.
“Do not waste the opportunity, patch up the holes,” said Holdgate.
Delegates were advised to put user testing at the heart of their businesses, and apply analytics to understand what does and does not work.
“Back up findings from analytics and expert review and also expose the opportunities that you would never have thought about,” he said.
Companies should also continually involve product and marketing teams in a feedback loop to prioritise those products that drive most revenue, Holdgate added.
“Is conversion rate optimisation the new search engine optimisation? For me it’s the same thing. Have the right content and tone and you will have happy customers and please Google.”

Friday, 27 September 2013

Queen Mary 2 in mid-Atlantic mercy mission

Queen Mary 2 in mid-Atlantic mercy mission

Queen Mary 2 in mid-Atlantic mercy mission
Cunard flagship Queen Mary 2 stopped in mid-Atlantic yesterday to provide assistance to a lone woman rowing across the ocean.
The ship, sailing from New York to Southampton, received a request to assist after Canadian solo rower Mylène Paquette lost her anchor and a satellite phone in a storm.
She received four watertight canisters containing the requested items including a new satellite phone after 83 days at sea and two months to go.
QM2 slowly circled the boat at 10 knots to calm the water before the provisions, including food, bottled water, tea and coffee, were dropped into the sea and collected by Paquette.
The ship also supplied a scraper to remove the barnacles underneath the rowing boat, duct tape, soap, shampoo and body lotion.
Captain Kevin Oprey, master of QM2, said: “We are happy to have given assistance to Mylène and help her recover from the damage inflicted by the storm. We wish her the very best of luck with her solo Atlantic rowing adventure.”
Paquette said: “This is a dream come true! For me to see the Queen Mary 2 in the middle of the Atlantic is something I would have never hoped for. I want to thank all of the members of the crew for making this encounter happen."
She is aiming to become the first North American woman to row solo across the Atlantic, a total of 2,700 nautical miles, having set out from Halifax, Canada on July 6 for Lorient in France.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

River cruise sustainability guide launched

River cruise sustainability guide launched

A guide offering best practices to river cruise operators on how to operate with as little environmental impact as possible has been developed by the Travel Foundation.
The ‘Environmental Sustainability for River Cruising’ is designed to support the river cruise tourism industry in working towards a sustainable future by identifying ways to reduce water and energy use, and waste generation on river cruise ships.
The best practices offered in the guide come from audits done on ships in Egypt, along the Nile, and in Europe, along the Danube, Rhine, and Rhône rivers.
Twelve Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection ships were audited. The recommendations made from the findings were used to form the basis of the guide, which provides training material for the river cruise industry at large in managing their own environmental performance.
The guidance will mark a breakthrough in reducing the environmental impact of river cruising tourism worldwide, charity the Travel Foundation claims.
Uniworld president Guy Young said: “With the growth of the river cruise sector, it is essential that we all do our part to ensure a healthy and sustainable future for our waterways, which is why we are so proud to be part of such an important first-of-its-kind project in the river cruise sector.
“All river cruise companies should seek to better understand and adopt environmental performance measures in an effort to prevent serious environmental impact in the destinations where we travel and operate.
“To this end, we hope this Environmental Sustainability for River Cruising guide will provide them with best practice examples, tools, and sources of further information, as well as a self-assessment checklist in their own efforts of continuous improvements towards a more sustainable future.”
Salli Felton, acting chief executive of the Travel Foundation, added: “It’s important that the river cruising sector addresses the environmental impact of its day-to-day operation, so that it can grow sustainably.
“We’ve broken the guide down into small manageable chunks so that companies can take a step-by-step approach to minimising the negative effect they may be having on the environment.”
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises are sold through Titan Travel in the UK.

Cruise lines working with authorities over Venice lagoon debate

Cruise lines working with authorities over Venice lagoon debate

Cruise lines working with authorities over Venice lagoon debate
Cruise lines are working with Italian authorities to look at the option of moving the port in Venice to another part of the canal after concerns over the ships' impact on the city.
Speaking at a Clia press conference earlier today, Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises, said the industry was working with officials to find a solution and was looking at different canals to establish which would be the best alternative.
His comments came just days after protesters delayed a procession of cruise ships for over an hour by leaping into Venice's Guidecca canal. The demonstrators believe the cruise ships are threatening the city's foundations and want the port moved to an island away from the city.
Vago said the issue was "deeply emotional" for some Venetians, however the majority support the cruise lines calling at the destination.
He said there was no environmental impact on Venice by the vessels as cruise lines had already agreed to have a low sulphur admission on entering the city.
Vago said lines and authorities were looking at the ecosystems in the waters surrounding Venice to establish whether there was an alternative and appropriate route.
He added: "We (the cruise industry) are important to the city of Venice, everybody understands that.
"One shop out of six lives because of the cruise industry, 33% of the hotel industry lives because of the cruise industry. It is an emotional impact."
Howard Frank, Carnival Corporation's vice chairman and chief operating officer said he agreed that the issue was not a environmental one.
He said the industry needed to do a better job in getting the message out about how environmentally friendly cruise ships had become. 

The world-changer

The world-changer

By Arnie Weissmann
There are a handful of companies in the world that are recognized for extraordinary levels of customer engagement: Apple, Amazon, Starbucks and Zappos define the set and are much admired (and dissected) as models of New Marketing. 

It's hard to find a parallel in the travel space. The large online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia, Priceline and Orbitz have certainly changed the travel-buying habits of millions of Americans, but as their leadership knows quite well, there's very little loyalty to individual OTAs. They built their brands on the promise of low price and were all too successful in training consumers to believe that smart travellers not only shop online but shop around. 

BRUCE POON TIP, world changerWhile there are many travel suppliers that can point to strong consumer loyalty, with enviable repeat business rates, the industry is generally very old school in its approach to marketing and branding. Loyalty programs abound -- after all, the loyalty concept started in the travel industry, with airlines -- but the innovative marketing that produces a deeper connection between buyer and product has, by and large, been absent, with Virgin being the exception that proves the rule. 

Though not well-known in the U.S., there is one travel company, the tour operator G Adventures, whose different approach to marketing puts it, in many regards, within the same corporate set as Starbucks, Amazon and Apple. 

It certainly doesn't belong there as a result of its scale. G Adventures claims a respectable, but relatively small, $250 million in sales from 100,000 passengers last year. But its founder and chief executive, Bruce Poon Tip, has nonetheless been invited to address Apple and Google employees on his approach to customer relations, has become friends with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, secured a meeting with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to discuss corporate core values and been invited to give TED talks about his marketing philosophy. 

Last week, his book, "Looptail: How One Company Changed the World by Reinventing Business" (Business Plus, 2013) was issued as a major release. The title may sound over-reaching for a company that you might not be all that familiar with, and Poon Tip is not exactly a paragon of modesty within its pages. 

But if you live in Europe, Australia or Canada, where G Adventures is better known, the claims might not seem so hyperbolic. The U.S. is currently only the fourth-largest source market for the Toronto-based tour operator, a ranking Poon Tip is eager to reorder. 

Poon Tip has brought the concepts of customer connectivity and social enterprise to travel in a unique way. On the surface, some of what G Adventures does looks very familiar: It's certainly not unusual for a tour operator to integrate aspects of philanthropy, sustainable practices and support for a destination's cultural traditions into its programs. And many other operators have launched sophisticated social media plans. 

But Poon Tip's innovation is to permeate his company with 2013 values, from the urge to give back to destinations to ironic attitudes toward escorted tours, incorporating "fun" in the workplace and tapping into the longing for belonging to something greater than oneself. 

Did I mention that the Dalai Lama wrote the introduction to Poon Tip's book? 

Road trip

The Queen Violetta, alongshore at sunset.As part of his effort to establish a greater North American presence, Poon Tip invited nine industry executives and their significant others to join a jungle cruise on the Peruvian Amazon aboard the Queen Violetta, a riverboat he leased earlier this year. 

He wanted to tell this captive audience of travel agents and consortia executives (and one outlier, a product development vice president from Marriott Vacations Worldwide) the G Adventures story, provide a G Adventures experience and listen to the feedback. I was invited to facilitate an onboard discussion around sustainability and travel. 

Poon Tip is proud of the G Adventures product, but he freely admits, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to run a great trip." His insight was to differentiate his product by overtly telling travelers, as the title in his book trumpets, "Go on a G Adventures holiday and you will change the world." 

Change the world. Not merely that you will support a project or that a portion of the proceeds will go to charity or that if you elect to reuse your towel you will help the environment. When you book a G Adventures tour, he explicitly states, you will join a community of world-changers. 

There is nothing subtle about his messaging. And Poon Tip has little but scorn for companies that make a donation to organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and then receive permission to put the WWF logo on their brochures. He sympathizes with companies like Marriott, which purchased huge swaths of Brazilian rainforest to protect and preserve as an offset to its global carbon footprint, and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which hired a respected environmentalist to head up its sustainability efforts. But he cites these as examples of companies "retrofitting" to a sustainability positioning. 

While he believes retrofitting is positive, his company, he told the industry group assembled in the Queen Violetta's dining room, "transcends travel." By including dialogue that doesn't focus on the trip, travel advisers can avoid selling commoditized travel and differentiate themselves from Internet competition, he said. 

Guests had an opportunity to swim in the Amazon during the trip."When I speak at Google, they never ask me about the trips," he said. "They want to talk about branding." 

And the branding is often tangential to actual tour content. G Adventure slogans such as "I'm not a tourist, I'm a traveler," speak to consumer attitudes that also reject commoditization. And they transcend generational demographics.

G Adventures was until two years ago known as GAP Adventures. It changed its name after a long legal battle with the Gap clothing chain. For Poon Tip, "GAP" was an acronym for Great Adventure People, but it had also caused him marketing headaches because people associated the company with "gap year" travel, which appeals to recent high school or college graduates. He sees the change to a more age-neutral "G" as the one bright outcome of a bitter experience. 

Another example of Poon Tip's branding approach was a contest in which consumers were invited to submit ideas for projects inspired by the slogan "What will you do today, for tomorrow?" There were four categories -- beauty, community, knowledge and freedom -- and authors of the winning proposals, judged in an elaborate event among finalists in the jungles of Costa Rica, received $25,000 grants to see the ideas, which were not necessarily travel-related, through to completion. 


To back the brand claim that G Adventures changes the world, Poon Tip created a foundation, Planeterra, which not only supports relief efforts in locales that G Adventures operates but engineers businesses that he believes preserve traditions, improve the health of local people, create employment opportunities and may support the infrastructure of his tours, from restaurants to lodges to centers where traditional crafts are showcased. 

Some projects, such as a home for street kids in Cusco, Peru, existed before he began supporting them and do not receive G Adventures passengers. But in other instances, the services of Planeterra social enterprises are supported by and integrated into the infrastructure of his tours -- but pointedly, not available to competitors. 

"They can start their own woman's traditional weaving cooperative if they want to," he said. 

A local family gathered turtle eggs in its dugout canoe to turn over to conservation officials for protection.A short list of other Planeterra-supported projects includes training street kids in Delhi, India, to be G Adventures tour guides; a program that includes guest stays in homes of aboriginal people in Australia; and a day school for kids whose parents have died from AIDS in South Africa. 

Then there are the one-offs, in which past passengers who feel part of the G Adventures community are tapped for help. A one-night circus with street performers in Toronto to celebrate the company's 20th anniversary raised $75,000 to build an eye clinic in Cambodia (they had already funded similar centers in Tibet and Tanzania), and after identifying a need for clean water in an East African refugee camp, Poon Tip sent out a tweet to his @PlaneterraCares followers and raised $100,000 in a weekend, he said. 

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Planeterra initiatives is that Poon Tip does not support them with his own or the company's money. They are financed primarily by G Adventures passengers, although he has also received grants. 

G Adventure's blurring of the lines between the profit and nonprofit world has not been without controversy. He says he was booed by nonprofits as he stood to make a pitch for a grant before the Inter-American Development Bank. But he walked away with a $1 million grant, the first for-profit company to receive the bank's funding, he said. 

Another of Poon Tip's talking points is wealth distribution. In its most practical application, G Adventures focuses on sourcing as many employees, contractors and supplies in destination markets as possible. He pointed out that he supported the builders of the Queen Violetta in helping them "break the cartel" that dominated shipbuilding and operating on that portion of the Amazon. 

The group of industry executives on this tour visited a local school on the banks of the river and distributed school supplies. Poon Tip said that G Adventures visits schools on a rotating basis to ensure that no one "model" village gets all the benefit nor becomes dependent upon riverboat visits. 

But on a larger scale, and more worrisome, he said that only 5% of the money travelers spend to visit developing countries stays in the country, and that reality builds resentment and hostility towards the industry. "The travel industry will be held accountable," he said, and travel sellers need to understand this issue and other issues that tie into his company's philosophical positioning. Travel advisers need to be able to "speak with authority" about, for example, ethical travel and climate change. 

"To say it's too complicated is to go back to selling commoditized travel," he said. 

Ethics are complicated

Complications arise when tours are actually being run in countries where not every citizen -- or local escort or hotelier -- subscribes to Western values, ideas and ethics. 

A G Adventures guide holds a 15-foot anacondas head down with a forked stick while a guest holds on to the tail.Just such a conflict arose on our trip. On an excursion, our excellent local guides, who were trained naturalists, came across an anaconda -- or rather, they spotted about five inches of snake skin showing through a hole in the ground. They told everyone to be quiet and gather around. Using a machete, one of them hacked a seven-foot-long forked branch so the forked end extended only about five inches. Not knowing where the snake's head might appear, they prodded it through the hole, and when the snake popped through the ground a few inches to the left of the hole, one guide used the forked end of the stick to hold the snake's head down. 

The rest of the 15-foot long constrictor uncoiled to the right, and the other guide, calling for assistance from the group, grabbed its tail and held tight. The snake was held stretched out for about five or six minutes, with various group members holding on. 

Toward the end of the display, Nicole Mazza, executive vice president for marketing at TravelSavers, said, "Haven't we bothered this poor snake enough? Let's let him go." 

I later asked Poon Tip, who was present on that excursion, about the ethics of interfering with a wild animal to that extent, given G Adventure's positioning. 

"I was horrified," he said. But, he added, it was a complex scene. While he would have preferred it hadn't happened, he said that what we also saw was a reflection of the native culture of the guides, both of whom were born in the jungle. For them, this sort of treatment of an anaconda would not be considered unethical in the least. 

He said one guest asked him "if we had stressed the snake. I'm not sure an anaconda can be stressed. Every day they're hunting, and they're hunted." 

To Poon Tip's point about native culture, the guides were very excited and proud of the incident, with one of them later citing it as "the highlight of the day," ranking it above piranha fishing, the sightings of pink river dolphins, swimming in the Amazon, visiting a shaman and viewing macaws, three-toed sloths and other wildlife. 

And indeed, that afternoon two local members of the crew who had stayed behind on the ship during that excursion saw that I was downloading photos on an upper deck. They approached and asked to see photos of the snake, and had me estimate how long I thought it was. They were extremely impressed. 

Poon Tip said that perhaps a better example of local culture vs. respectful treatment of animals occurred at a lodge farther south in Peru. The property was thriving on the business G Adventures sent its way but also kept a few jungle animals captive on site. One night, the owner, drunk, chased after passengers, swinging a small anaconda over his head. 

A brown capuchin, at right, approaches a resting howler monkey.Poon Tip immediately moved the business to another lodge. But later, the offending lodge owner wrote to say his business was failing and his children were going hungry. He begged for the business back and promised not to keep captive animals. At the same time, Poon Tip was getting reports that the replacement lodge had started to keep captive animals on site. 

He ended up first splitting the business between the lodges, then added another lodge that he helped to finance. 

In the end, he concluded, it was, at heart, a cultural clash between Western and indigenous values. 

"You can take the man out of the jungle, but you can't take the jungle out of the man," he said. "And at least they're no longer killing animals just so they can show them to passengers." 

Will agents sell the message?

On the final day of the trip, I moderated a roundtable among the industry guests. I was asked to focus on sustainability but found that I had as many questions about how the company was being received by this group of agents, who represented billions of dollars in leisure business. Some excerpts: 

Arnie Weissmann, Editor in Chief, Travel Weekly: Bruce appears to believe that your clients care enough about sustainability and related issues that you could sell a tour based to a large degree on your clients' capacity for caring. Do they care? And can you sell them based on that?

Karryn Christopher, vice president of marketing, Signature Travel Network:
 Not for all purchases. That's why you have a portfolio. 

Glen Wells, senior manager, Merit: I think most travelers wouldn't consider sustainability and the issues we've been talking about. But as travel agents, we have a duty to educate people. 

Industry executives gather on the deck of the Queen Violetta during their Amazon River cruise with G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip.Nicole Mazza, executive vice president of marketing, TravelSavers:When I think about vacationing with my family, I do not think about sustainability. Not ever. But quite honestly, after listening to [Poon Tip] speak and what the brand stands for, if I have to choose where I want to go around the world, it's going to be one that I look at first. [Poon Tip's] belief system, what [he] stand for, really piqued my interest. 

But clients and agents need to feel this spirit and be able to share it with their clients. I am predicting [G Adventures] will become very cult-like, what Club Med was in its heyday, and it still is, in France. Their clients keep coming back because they love what they stand for. It's what G is positioned to do. 

Arnie Weissmann: Will a frontline agent who hasn't heard Bruce speak in great detail about the company be able to convey the G Adventures message?

Christine James, vice president (Canada),
 Our frontline agents can take control of that sale and then drive that message to clients who are socially and environmentally conscious. 

Pelin Karaca, vice president for product development, Holbrook Travel: In our experience, if sustainable trips cost more, it adds additional pressure. The tourism industry itself, the whole industry, should be elevated so that it should never be a choice between sustainable or not. For the most part, though, people leave their beliefs at home. They just like to travel. 

Tiffany Glass, vice president for e-commerce, technology and member services, It's very tough to lead on sustainability, but there are a few niches where you could. We see it in the millennials, but the millennials are not users of travel agents at this point. We also see it among empty-nesters. 

Lindsay Pearlman, co-president, Ensemble Travel Group: When it comes to sustainability, you have to say, "Does the consumer really know what that means?" They'll hear statistics like "the new [Boeing] 737 is 30% more fuel-efficient" or "the new cruise ships recycle gray water." Consumers don't really know what that means. The opportunity with G [Adventures] is that it does mean something when a consumer is having this experience. And that could be a deciding factor on future purchases. 

Arnie Weissmann: Scott, you represent a timeshare vacation company with thousands of products. Can this be sold by a call center? Can your people differentiate this experience?

Scott Bahr, vice president for product development and strategic alliances, Marriott Vacations Worldwide:
 We have 700 or so call-center agents picking up the phone, talking to 400,000 owners and their families. I don't think you can lead purely with sustainability. However, the core values that G has matches what we represent to our customers, and from that perspective, it makes a lot of sense to start with, "Who is this behind the trip?" And then we could talk about the trips, because the trips are secondary. If you can't convey alignment of values to your agents, and then from the agent to the person on the phone, you've already failed. And in our portfolio today, we have nothing that matches this product in terms of experience. 

Arnie Weissmann: Would anyone else sell the branding and positioning of G Adventures, and then the vacation?

 You market the experience, but you don't necessarily market the brand, because there are a lot of ways to have those experiences. 

Arnie Weissmann: Bruce, you're nodding, but I'm surprised you're nodding. You link G Adventures to all these projects. Wouldn't you expect travel agents to start off with that?

Bruce Poon Tip, founder, G Adventures:
 I would love them to, but no, that's unrealistic. In many ways, we're the extreme on the sustainable scale, and that can scare people. It's a marketing challenge, where people might say, "It's for young people." "It's for people on a budget." "It's not comfortable." We have quite a bit of our own educating to do in order to get to a stage where our brand is omnipresent. We're doing everything in our power to be that strong, but we understand where we fit on the tourism industry food chain. We're a niche product, and we'll always be a niche product, and out of 10 clients that come into your office, maybe one of them might be remotely interested in an adventure product. So, it's our goal that when someone comes in and wants something different, that our name pops up, because we'll have something for them. 

Arnie Weissmann: Earlier today, Bruce, you said you wished you were selling something that wasn't a niche product. Do you believe that five-plus years down the road, you will be as large and well-known as, say, Trafalgar or Globus?

Poon Tip: Yeah, I do. I'm driven to grow this business, so I know that, organically, we can go to a billion dollars. 

Refining brand and corporate culture

Poon Tip claims that he has had month-over-month growth this year that was never less than 35%. In addition to what he sees as a unique branding position, one other reason he's optimistic that he'll hit $1 billion in sales is travel itself is on track to become the largest industry in the world, thanks in large measure to economic growth in China, India, Russia and Brazil. Poon Tip points out that the biggest challenge is that travel isn't going to scale equally -- it might double in Peru by 2020 but grow tenfold in China, so the challenge is to pick markets intelligently. 

A tiny poison dart frog rests on the palm of the hand of a G Adventures guide.But most important to him is the further refinement of his branding and corporate culture, and much of his time is spent focusing on employees. The G Adventures office in Lima, Peru, which is the company headquarters for South America, is filled with a bright, young, energetic staff. They might have meetings in the "Legos Room," which features a table filled with small plastic bricks, or interview potential employees in the "Michael Jackson Room," complete with a statue of the singer and Michael Jackson-themed wallpaper. Interviewees spin a wheel and must answer some questions that are certainly atypical in most job interviews, such as "What was your best Halloween costume?" and "Would you rather be rich or famous, and why?" 

Poon has boiled down his company's core values to five words: People, planet, profit, passion and purpose. "I met with the CEO of Netflix. Their core values are 14 pages long. But if you're a cook for us, you'd never understand them. [Our] values could work for anything. Our vehicle is travel, but with these same values, we could sell mood rings." 

It's easy to see why a publisher would solicit Poon Tip to write a book. His head seems to be bursting with business concepts that he can reduce to pithy advice ("Happy people drive your brand to success. The Four Pillars to Happiness are: Ability to grow, being connected, being part of something greater than yourself and freedom.") 

From an industry point of view, Poon Tip's lasting impact won't be measured in book sales. He might yet, as his title promises, change the way businesses operate, but those claims today are a bit reminiscent of President Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year in office. 

Long term, his greatest impact on the industry might not necessarily spring from customer satisfaction or growth rates. Rather, the question is whether he will shake up the corporate behavior of a largely tradition-bound industry segment: tour operations. Tour operators have certainly evolved over the past decade, becoming more experiential and marketed, in part, through sophisticated social media, but the companies themselves follow business and branding models that have remained largely unchanged for years. 

Mazza's analogy with Club Med might be the fairest measure of G Adventure's ultimate impact. Club Med's success was driven by concept, culture, engagement and experience, and its influences created a multibillion-dollar subset of hospitality: the all-inclusive. 

Companies built on social enterprise are taking root in many industries, and it's a model that could well proliferate throughout this decade. While it would be difficult for large operations to "retrofit" along the lines of G Adventures, it's not impossible that they would create subsidiary brands that mirror its approaches to branding, marketing and social enterprise. 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Royal Princess not expected to miss next cruise

Royal Princess not expected to miss next cruise

By Tom Stieghorst
Princess Cruises said it does not anticipate having to cancel the Sept. 27 cruise from Barcelona of the Royal Princess.

The newest Princess ship ended its most recent cruise early because of an unexpected power blackout.

Passengers departed in Naples, three days short of Barcelona, and were given a full refund and a voucher for a 25% credit on a future cruise.

Princess said it expects technicians to complete repairs on the ship while it sails without passengers to Barcelona. The next cruise is a 12-day Mediterranean itinerary that ends in Venice.

Write downs a factor in lower Q3 earnings for Carnival Corp.

Write downs a factor in lower Q3 earnings for Carnival Corp.

By Tom Stieghorst
Carnival Corp. earned $934 million in the key third quarter, down 28% from the $1.3 billion earned in the same quarter last year.

Revenue of $4.7 billion was in line with last year, Carnival said.

Carnival said it had impairment charges of $203 million to write down the value of two older Costa ships, its Ibero Cruises trademark and other items. Those were partly offset by a gain on fuel derivative contracts.

Like other cruise lines, Carnival earns the bulk of its annual profits in the third quarter, which at Carnival includes the months of June, July and August. 

For all of 2013, Carnival said it expects to earn $1.2 billion.

Carnival also reported income on a non-GAAP accounting basis, a method favoured by some investors. By that measure, it earned $1.1 billion, down from $1.2 billion a year ago. 

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

P&O Cruises to name new ship Britannia

P&O Cruises to name new ship Britannia

P&O Cruises to name new ship Britannia
P&O Cruises is to name its new ship Britannia.
The 141,000-ton ship, which is due to enter service in spring 2015, will boost the line’s capacity by 24% and carry 3,600 passengers.
Speaking at an event this morning in front of Carnival Corporation chairman Micky Arison and chief executive Arnold Donald, P&O Cruises and Carnival UK chief executive David Dingle said the naming of the ship reflected a “rediscovered pride in our country”.
He said: “Britannia is a most fitting name for the newest addition to P&O Cruises which, with its long and famous heritage, remains Britain’s favourite cruise line. Britannia will capture both the contemporary spirit of P&O Cruises and the spirit of Britain today.
“Today’s Britain is a place of increasing style and sophistication, optimism and excitement. Britannia will reflect that feeling and will mark a new era of growth and success for the cruise industry.”
He added: “Britannia will underpin P&O Cruises’ unique commitment to building ships specifically designed to anticipate the tastes of today’s Britain. It will be a modern classic, a ship for this and future generations offering authentic travel by sea in an enduringly contemporary setting.”
The ship will be the third connected with P&O Cruises to be named Britannia. The first entered service in 1835 for the General Steam Navigation Company; the second entered service in 1887 and was one of four ordered to mark the Golden Jubilee of both Queen Victoria and P&O itself.
The new Britannia is being designed by London-based Richmond International, and in response to feedback will feature more single cabins than any other ship.
P&O also claims it will be its greenest yet, and will be designed to deliver much greater levels of operational and environmental efficiency. A new hull form will reduce fuel consumption by up to 20%.