Friday, 29 November 2013

Facebook targets travel as ‘super user’ study finds holiday posts dominate

Facebook targets travel as ‘super user’ study finds holiday posts dominate

By Travolution
By Travolution

A European study of Facebook’s heaviest users has found travel is the biggest vertical on the social network, equating to more than double the next biggest category.
Facebook carried out a qualitative study of 16 ‘super-users’ in the UK and Germany and a quantitative study of 3,000 regular users who have been on holiday in the last 12 months.
The firm says the activities of its top 20% of users are indicative of where mainstream users are heading next.
The research found that 42% of stories on timelines are travel-related, while 51% of users in the survey put posts about ‘holidays’ as one of their top three types, above music, food, pets, babies and weddings.
Other findings of the Facebook user survey included:
  • 83% say they enjoy looking at photos of friends’ and family’s holidays, even when they’re not considering going on holiday
  • 52% said when using Facebook they’d started dreaming about a holiday even when they didn’t have one planned
  • 97% of those who go online while abroad for information use Facebook
  • 91% of them use Facebook at least every couple of days while they’re on vacation
  • 99% do something on Facebook when they get back from a vacation
  • 32% of these users do so before they even get home from the airport
Tracy Yaverbaun, group director of retail, travel, luxury and fashion, said the insight had confirmed what Facebook already perceived to be the case regarding its importance for the travel sector.
“We want to build specialisms in certain industries to give value back to marketers using the platform. In the UK we did not really have a travel category until this year.
“What was happening was we were seeing much more engagement from our users that were talking about and sharing their experiences of travel.
“It’s the most shared topic. We have seen a lot of travel companies, whether it’s OTAs or tourist boards, reaching out to us.
“So we decided to redouble our efforts and put some thought into how we approach travel and we wanted to back this up with third party measurement.”
Yaverbaun said travel firms which are using Facebook with a clear end goal in mind, whether it was driving own customer acquisitions costs or finding more customers, were seeing strong results.
The report on the study highlighted Secret Escapes’ work to develop new markets using Custom Audiences, and Hotel Tonight targeting new customers for their last-minute booking app.
The former saw an 85% increase in Click Through Rate and a 20% decrease in Cost Per Click compared to desktop campaigns, while the latter had a ten times increase in click-to-install rate compared to standard mobile banner ads.
British Airways also used Facebook for its Home Advantage London Olympics advertising campaign, reaching 12.8 million people overall of which 5.8 million were reached by Facebook.
As well as Custom Audiences, Facebook has started offering Lookalike Audiences which matches firms’ existing customer profiles to users of the social network and targets them.
Andy Pang, Facebook measurement solutions group lead, said the network was most interested in driving insight from its growth markets in northern Europe.
“We know marketers talk about the five stages of travel, but we were very keen to find out how Facebook was the influencer within those five stages.
“With marketing budgets being relatively tight finding the most effective platform is a key consideration among most marketers.”
Pang said the study uncovered some interesting early examples of users in Europe starting to use Facebook’s new Graph Search functionality despite it not being fully rolled out yet.
There was also evidence that travellers use Facebook as a storage device for their holiday content like pictures.
One respondent had last their camera while abroad but because they had auto upload on Facebook they had not lost their photographs.
Pang added a number of respondents talked about Facebook as being a useful time saver because they could log in once and get access to all their applications without the need for multiple passwords.
Yaverbaun said this single view of the user was helping marketers understand how customers move across multiple devices.
“A lot of advertisers are starting to see great results from doing the right things on the platform. A lot of people are not clear about why they want to be on Facebook.
“A lot know they have to be doing something because they see others doing it, but the challenge is to show them why.
“The first things our teams ask them is what is their objective, what is the outcome they are after. A lot of firms, particularly OTAs will not invest in something until they are sure it has some sort of return for them.”

AmaWaterways introduces 2014 Myanmar itineraries

AmaWaterways introduces 2014 Myanmar itineraries

By Michelle Baran

After teasing the news earlier this year that it had plans to enter the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar (aka Burma), AmaWaterways is now taking bookings on two new Myanmar river cruises that will take place on the 56-passenger AmaPura.

The two new itineraries are a 11-day Golden Treasures of Myanmar trip and a 15-day Hidden Wonders of Myanmar, which are outlined in the company’s “River Cruises through Myanmar (Burma) 2014-2016” brochure as well as on the company’s website.

The cruises will include stops in Bagan, home to more than 2,200 temples, stupas and pagodas; Mandalay, the country’s former imperial capital and its second-largest city; the ancient royal city of Inwa, which was the capital of Burma for more than 400 years; Amarapura, known for having the world's longest teak bridge; and Yangon, the country’s capital.

Launching on the Irrawaddy River in November 2014, the all-suite AmaPura will feature 28 suites, all with either a French balcony, a step-out full balcony or indoor/outdoor twin balconies. The ship's public areas include a restaurant, main lounge and bar, gift shop, spa, pool and a sun deck for lounging.

AmaWaterways is also offering an optional four-night post-cruise extension, featuring three nights in Inle Lake and one night in Yangon. A two-night pre- or post-cruise extension in Bangkok is also available.

How to know if your client is a river cruiser

How to know if your client is a river cruiser

By Michelle Baran
InsightFor a travel seller, I imagine that it’s hard not to see the staggering growth in the river cruise category and wonder: What’s the allure, and would this be something my clients would enjoy?

For agents who haven’t experienced a river cruise themselves, this can be a slightly more challenging question to tackle. Being a relatively new product in the travel marketplace, it seems that a growing number of agents who are new to river cruising are having clients approach them with questions and requests about the product (especially as Viking Cruises continues to invest heavily in advertising). This means that agents not totally familiar with river cruising are having to get educated quickly and on the fly.
MichelleBaranWhich is why an infographic recently created by Abercrombie & Kent, itself a new entrant into the river cruise market, struck me as particularly interesting — it is designed to help travelers navigate whether they should opt for small-ship exploration cruises, river cruises or barge cruises.

The distinctions made between the latter two categories are particularly helpful as travelers who are interested in exploring inland waterways decide whether a river cruise vessel or canal barge is the way to go.

The choose-your-own-adventure quiz asks whether the potential cruiser’s style is more “‘Country Inn’ hospitality” or “‘Country Club’ discreet.” If it’s the first, canal barging might be the way to go. And if it’s the latter, a river cruise might be the better option.

Which cruise is right for you? infographicOther distinctions the infographic makes include that river cruises tend to be well-planned itineraries through many of the major cities and capitals of Europe, while barge itineraries are played a bit more by ear as the barges meander through small villages. (To view the infographic,click here or on the image, left, for a larger view.)

While passengers can travel some 50 miles per day on a river cruise, they might 50 miles in a week on a canal barge, meaning they’re going to cover a lot more ground on a river cruise and delve deeper in a very specific region on a barge.

Of course, A&K’s chart is somewhat playful and geared toward A&K’s product offering. But it could be a good way to start the river cruising conversation.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Norwegian Cruise Line and Avis Budget sign marketing deal

Norwegian Cruise Line and Avis Budget sign marketing deal

By Tom Stieghorst

Avis Budget Group and Norwegian Cruise Line said they’ve signed a multiyear marketing agreement that will make Avis Budget part of pre-cruise tour packages for Norwegian Getaway, the line’s newest ship.

The packages will be available to guests and travel agents through Norwegian’s call center.

Information about the Avis and Budget car rental brands will be featured in Norwegian's electronic marketing channels, while Norwegian Cruise Line will be featured in communications to Avis and Budget customers.

Norwegian Getaway is scheduled to begin cruises from Miami in February. 

Oceania schedules second world cruise for 2015

By Tom Stieghorst

Oceania Cruises said it will launch a second 180-day around-the-world voyage in 2015, immediately after its inaugural world voyage returns to Miami.

The Insignia will leave July 8 and visit 100 ports of call, starting in New England and Canada. Oceania said the unusual summer start of the cruise will allow for a unique global itinerary. Included in the voyage are overnight stays in 14 cities ranging from Abu Dhabi to Walvis Bay, Namibia.

An early-booking incentive includes free first-class air. Bookings open Dec. 4.

Oceania said the first 180-day trip on the 684-passenger ship sold out in eight hours.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Optimism in the cruise market

Optimism in the cruise market

By Tom Stieghorst
*InsightIs the cruise business in the process of turning a corner? 
There’s no objective proof that it is, but as with improvements in the general economy, turning points are often discernable only in retrospect.
Subjectively, it feels like something is happening. Business feels like it is getting better. People feel primed to spend again, and travel is one of the areas they want to spend more money on.
Some travel executives have been saying this for awhile. “I do feel like travel is back,” said Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners, who noted her company is having a record year for both franchise and travel sales.*TomStieghorst 
The legs for a turnaround are in place.  The stock market is consistently hitting new highs. Equally important, home prices have been resurgent for some time now. Unemployment remains a drag, but the jobless rate is several points below its peak of a couple years ago. Driven by a potential easing of tensions with Iran, oil prices have fallen for the past four months, which should give cruise lines leeway to offer better fares without destroying the bottom line.
The prevalence of fare sales and promotions suggest that the bedrock seven-night domestic cruise market is still in recovery. But cruise lines continue to make impressive gains in cost reduction, leaving room to fill ships profitably at somewhat lower prices.
Individual agents who are having good years are not hard to find. “Personally, my business has been fabulous,” said Muffett Grubb, a Cruise Holidays franchisee in Knoxville, Tenn., who said travelers are loosening their wallets to take cruises in Europe rather than the five-to-seven-day Caribbean trips of 2011-12.
Likewise, Rose Stevenson, who owns a Cruise Holidays franchise in Charles Town, W. Va., said she’s doing well and that clients have a comfort level with Alaska and Hawaii cruises they didn’t have before.
Kevin Weisner, president of Cruise Holidays, said that in the big picture, success depends on market segment. Once you take the first-time cruiser out of the equation, “business is very, very healthy,” he said.
Those consumers that have never been on a cruise became tougher to persuade after the Carnival Triumph incident in February. But memories of that incident are fading, and barring some sort of lightning strike for the third year in a row, the cruise industry could finally be on its way to the smooth sailing it used to enjoy routinely during a good economy.
If November turns out to be a tipping point, that’s something everyone in the cruise industry could be thankful for.

Boeing warns of ice risks for 787 and 747-8 jets

Boeing warns of ice risks for 787 and 747-8 jets

By Kate Rice

Boeing has alerted airlines that 787 and 747-8 jets with General Electric engines should avoid thunderstorms that may contain ice crystals.

Aircraft should fly 50 nautical miles around such storms, Boeing advised.

Boeing issued the advisory after finding that ice crystal formation in some instances reduced the engine's thrust.

United, Japan Airlines and Lufthansa are among the airlines that fly the planes covered in the advisory.

Celebrity Cruises revamps loyalty program

Celebrity Cruises revamps loyalty program

By Tom Stieghorst
Celebrity Cruises has overhauled its  loyalty program, making it easier to earn additional perks and adding two elite levels to give top-tier members more to aspire to.

Celebrity is sending notifications to members of the club, which the cruise line says has about 2 million active participants.

David Brown, Celebrity’s marketing vice president in charge of the program, said guests had been asking for more in the program, which until now has had just four benefit levels.

“We wanted to recognize those guests who sailed frequently with us and kept sailing with us,” Brown said.

The previous structure was based on the number of sailings a member accumulates. So, for example, it took 10 credits to reach Elite status. Credits could be earned by taking a cruise, staying in a concierge-level suite or taking a sailing of 12 nights or more.

Going forward, the system will change to one based on cabin category, multiplied by cruise nights. So an interior cabin will earn two points, while a penthouse suite is worth 18 points.

The difference on a seven-night cruise would be 14 points vs. 126 points.

“So you can see there’s a dramatic difference based on the type of room,” Brown said.

At the same time, Celebrity is adding two more tiers, Elite Plus and Zenith, which will require more points and provide more perks. Some existing Elite members will automatically be enrolled in Elite Plus.

“We’re going to have a lot of people excited because they’re in that new level,” Brown said.

Very few members will graduate initially to Zenith, however.

“It’s not going to be easy to get to that level,” he said. “The point structures are clear. If you sail in a suite-level category for a certain amount of time, it is achievable.”

Elite status will require 300 points, Elite Plus 750 points, and Zenith will start at 3,000 points. Perks at the Zenith level include laundry service and 1,600 Internet minutes.

Celebrity studied changes in other loyalty programs before redesigning Captain’s Club. An important point, Brown said, is that no one will go backward in status as the points system changes.

There will also be no fees in the program, and points will never expire. Elite members will have lapel pins and leather luggage tags delivered to their homes starting this week.

Brown said the new system is more finely calibrated so that it’s easier to see how to get to the next level, and easier to change status by staying in a higher-level accommodation.

“It’s a really easy structure for somebody to say, if I book a little higher category of room, I’m going to increase the points for the sailing,” Brown said.

Status level in Captain’s Club will be indicated by Sea Pass card color, with Zenith members getting black cards; Elite Plus members’ cards will be burgundy.

Celebrity tested a new lounge on Infinity separate from the Captain’s Club lounge for Zenith members and high-level cabin occupants. Brown said it would begin opening the lounges on other ships next year. 

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Keel-laying of Anthem of the Seas

Keel-laying of Anthem of the Seas

Papenburg, 20November 2013 - The official keel-laying of the new cruise ship Anthem of the Seas was celebrated at MEYER WERFT in Papenburg by putting a block in place in the yard's covered building dock. Jarmo Laakso, Associate Vice President Quantum Class from Royal Caribbean International, put down the lucky penny in the dock before the block of the new ship was lowered by the 800-ts crane.
The first of a total of 74 blocks of the new cruise liner weighs 620 tons. This keel-laying marks the official start of construction of the Anthem of the Seas. For the time being the 167,800-gt Anthem of the Seas is one of the biggest ships the shipyard has built so far.
Delivery of the Anthem of the Seas is scheduled for spring 2015. The sistership of Quantum is under construction in the Building Dock and is scheduled as early as in the autumn of 2014.
Both new ships for Royal Caribbean International will set standards due to their design, a parachuting simulator, bumper cars, virtual balconies and many more innovations.
Each ship can accommodate 4,180 guests at double occupancy and feature 2,090 staterooms
Photo:The first block of the new cruise ship Anthem of the Seas for Royal Caribbean Cruises is put in place in MEYER WERFT's building dock II.

MSC Divina welcomed to Miami by cars… driving on water?!

Walking on water is one thing, but driving on water is something else entirely. That didn't stop FIAT from welcoming MSC Divina into the Port of Miami, Florida, with a fleet of 'aquatic' cars.

The PR stunt saw the impressive cruise ship flanked by Fiat 500s that had been modified to literally drive on water. It's not the first appearance for the 'Cinquecentos', which the Daily Mail reports have been seen on waterways in cities across the US during recent months.

But the presence of the 4,000-passenger cruise liner certainly helped draw the eye to their sea-based shenanigans.

One of the world's largest cruise ships, the MSC Divina will be based in Miami from this month to serve the Caribbean. Previously, she has cruised throughout the Mediterranean.

Commenting on its introduction to the Port of Miami, MSC US chief executive Richard Sasso said: "We are thrilled to welcome one of our finest and most innovative vessels to North America."

Friday, 22 November 2013

Facebook survey shows influence of travel posts

Facebook survey shows influence of travel posts

By Kate Rice
Travel is one of the biggest verticals on Facebook, according to a study the company conducted in Europe, with a little more than half of survey respondents listing holidays as one of the top three posts they see on Facebook.

Vacation-related posts comes above nights out, music, food, pets, babies and weddings, according to the study.

The study polled more than 3,000 Facebook users in the U.K., Germany and Scandanavia, but Lee McCabe, head of travel for Facebook, said the company would conduct a similar study in the U.S., and he said he expected the results to be similar.

McCabe said that because travel is so ubiquitous on Facebook, it's an ideal place for travel businesses to inspire people.

"Just viewing someone's vacation photos on Facebook is a huge influence to kick your friend into the dreaming state," he said.

McCabe said travel marketers could use Custom Audience, a Facebook tool businesses can use to find their customers in their database on Facebook and target them with relevant ads. For example, an airline could use a database of emails of passengers who have flown to Hawaii in the past to reach that same group on Facebook and show them an ad on Facebook for a discounted rate to Hawaii.

Eighty-four percent of Facebook users in the survey said that their friends' and families' holidays inspire them; 65% say that without Facebook they wouldn't know where their families have been on vacation.

Eighty-three percent said that they liked looking at photos of their friends' and families' vacations, even if they were not actively considering a vacation. Fifty-two percent said that when they're on Facebook they start dreaming about a vacation, even though they don't have one on the horizon.

And 47% said that when using Facebook they've scrolled through albums to find out more about a destination; 58% said that the experiences of friends and family at a destination have encouraged them to visit a place they hadn't previously considered.

According to the study, 95% of respondents used Facebook during the booking process: They used Facebook to share links to booking sites, to contact those going with them or to post about their plans.

During the vacation, 91% said they went on Facebook at least every couple days. And when they return from vacation, Facebook is the place where 99% of respondents post something on Facebook about their vacation after they return; 32% post even before they get home from the airport. 

Anthem of the Seas to sail Med cruises from Southampton; England

Anthem of the Seas to sail Med cruises from Southampton; England

By Jerry Limone
Royal Caribbean said the Anthem of the Seas, a Quantum-class ship due to enter service in April 2015, will sail from England in the summer and South Florida in the winter.

The ship will be based in Southampton for Mediterranean cruises. In the winter months, the ship will sail from Fort Lauderdale.

The 4,108-passenger Anthem of the Seas is under construction at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany.

The first Quantum-class ship, the Quantum of the Seas, is scheduled to enter service in fall 2014, sailing Florida-Caribbean cruises year-round from Cape Liberty in Bayonne, N.J.

Yacht Club, infinity pool among MSC Divina's standout features

Yacht Club, infinity pool among MSC Divina's stand out features

By Tom Stieghorst
MSC Divina infinity poolON BOARD THE MSC DIVINA — With the introduction of the Divina, MSC Cruises continues its steady progress toward creating a cruise brand that Americans can embrace.

The MSC Divina, a 3,502-passenger ship, has checked all the boxes that apply to the large-ship category, from adults-only areas to kids’ facilities, specialty dining areas and varied entertainment.

Plus, there are a few features on MSC Divina that should help it stand out from the crowd.

Its infinity pool on Deck 15 aft is one of the first applications of that resort standby to show up at sea.

The ship’s Formula One auto-racing simulator generated buzz among passengers on a three-night preview cruise from Miami.

And the MSC Yacht Club gives the ship a toehold in the upper-premium segment.

The Yacht Club is MSC’s version of a special-access premium section, first rendered by Norwegian Cruise Line with its Haven area.

On the Divina, it includes 69 cabins and suites, each measuring 295 to 562 square feet; a 30-seat private restaurant, Le Muse; a 141-seat lounge; and a separate pool, pool bar and concierge desk.

The color scheme for the Yacht Club was brown, beige and rust, one of two palates that describe most areas on the ship. The other scheme is black, white, gray, silver and red, with a bias toward smooth, reflective surfaces. Both seem a little dark for a ship that will be doing year-round, seven-night Caribbean itineraries.
MSCDivina-SophiaLorenSuiteBut Rick Sasso, president of MSC Cruises USA, said color schemes are “always a matter of taste. We tend to focus on the tones that blend everywhere, so you don’t have dramatic differences.”

More than colors, Sasso said he obsesses about service, which in the past has been panned by some American guests as underwhelming. The Italian staff on Divina is joined by the typical international crew complement hailing from Indonesia to South Africa.

There was general agreement among those onboard that MSC has made strides with the Divina. Kris Kerns, a CruiseOne agent from Palm Harbor, Fla., said she liked the food, and that the buffet restaurants Calumet and Manitou are notably spacious.

The Eataly on the Divina is a fraction of the size of the extravaganzas in New York and Chicago, but it nevertheless offers a selection of genuine Italian goods in a market nook and scrumptious dishes in the restaurant.

The “Pirates” evening show in the main theater was a fast-paced mix of acrobatics, juggling, contortion, tumbling, magic tricks, and gymnastics.

A collection of 84 giant black-and-white prints of the Italian celebrity scene of the 1950s, including such cinema notables as Brigitte Bardot and Marcello Mastroianni, decorates the ship and gives its Italian theme a nice boost.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Amid Europe river cruise boom, lines say there’s room for more

Amid Europe river cruise boom, lines say there’s room for more

By Michelle Baran
Viking FreyaIt’s hard to believe that 2014 will see considerably more investment and expansion in the European river cruise market than the previous couple of astonishing years of growth and interest — but it will.

For starters, Viking River Cruises will break its own shipbuilding record with 14 additional vessels in Europe next year; a startup river cruise line, Emerald Waterways, is launching with two ships and competitive pricing; and the largest river cruise company in France, CroisiEurope, has decided to make a run at the U.S. market.

And that doesn’t even cover the standard handful of newbuilds and itineraries that most other existing river cruise players are planning to introduce next year.

But even with all that added inventory, retailers insist there’s still a lot of room to grow in this category. That’s because despite all the new capacity and itineraries in the industry, river cruising still only accounts for a small percentage of retailers’ overall business.

In Travel Weekly’s Travel Industry Survey this year, river cruising accounted for 6% of travel agents’ overall business mix, and 22% of travel agents said they were already selling river cruises. But agents say that client requests for river cruises are mounting as the category continues to grow and gain exposure.

“Everybody’s asking about river cruises now,” said Debby Hughes, owner of a CruiseOne franchise in Big Bear City, Calif. “People are hearing about all the new ships and all the new changes. People are looking for something different, something a little more cultural, a little more unique. It’s more inclusive than the larger cruise lines.”

Hughes said her river cruise bookings probably account for between 10% and 20% of her overall bookings, and there is still plenty of opportunity in the river cruise market.

But even Viking, which launched 10 ships this year and six in 2012, in addition to the 14 it plans to unveil next year, has acknowledged that while the demand merits the growth, the industry needs to make sure the infrastructure in Europe can keep up.

“We have 14 Longships on order for next year because the demand among our passengers is there, and we believe that the waterways we sail in Europe can accommodate that type of growth,” said Richard Marnell, Viking’s senior vice president of marketing. “But we do recognize there is a need for investments in local infrastructure, and we will actively work to play a role in those discussions.” 
Emerald pool deck
Asked if her clients have started to notice any degree of crowding on European river cruises, Hughes said they had not, nor did she expect they would.

“People are used to larger ships,” Hughes said. “They’re used to getting off with thousands of people. I’ve never had a complaint that there were too many other tourists in town.”

As for the growing issue of rafting, where river cruise ships are forced to dock alongside one another, thus requiring passengers to walk through other vessels to embark and disembark, Hughes said, “Being able to go from one boat to the next, it’s one of the quirks of being able to cruise in Europe. It’s just one of those neat things.”

Few can deny that the growth and increased competition in the river cruise industry has spurred a race for better and more diversified product.

While for some river cruise lines, such as Tauck, that has meant amping up its upscale accommodations with more suites (Tauck is launching two newbuilds in Europe in 2014 that will each have 57% more suites than the company’s existing vessels), for others, such as Emerald Waterways, it has meant coming to market with more attractive pricing and amenities.

Earlier this fall, Scenic Tours, an Australian company, announced that it was launching Emerald Waterways, which would serve as the lower-priced alternative to its existing river cruise brand, Scenic Cruises.

In an attempt to capture the four-star river cruise market, Emerald Waterways will officially launch on April 15 with the unveiling of two newbuilds, the 182-passenger Emerald Star and the 182-passenger Emerald Sky, both of which are being outfitted with more playful features such as a heated swimming pool and a movie theater.

An eight-day cruise along the Danube, Rhine and Moselle rivers on Emerald Waterways will start at $2,230 per person, compared with an eight-day sailing thro
CroisiEurope1ugh the Netherlands on Scenic Cruises that starts at $2,735 per person.

French river cruise line 

CroisiEurope thinks there is space in the lower-priced river cruise market, as well. After 38 years of selling river cruises in Europe, CroisiEurope this fall launched a website and call center devoted to U.S. retailers and clientele. The company’s pitch: low-cost river cruises with a multicultural mix of passengers.

“The founder of the company had the philosophy to make this product available for the mass market,” said Michel Grimm, international sales director for CroisiEurope. “Our pricing is very aggressive.”

An eight-day CroisiEurope river cruise, including meals, open bar and excursions, won’t run more than $2,400 per person, Grimm said.

As a European river cruise operator, CroisiEurope will host a mix of nationalities onboard, something the former Peter Deilmann Cruises tried to do with German- and English-speaking clients on its ships. Some observers say that strategy played a role in Deilmann’s demise several years ago.

But CroisiEurope’s executives are adamant that for the right customer, having people from different countries onboard will be seen as an added draw, not a drawback.

“This is not for people who want the safety of being with all other English speakers,” said John McGlade, director of CroisiEurope’s U.S. reservation center. “For people who want the international experience, it’s the perfect marriage.”

CroisiEurope is also building up its own fleet of canal barge vessels that have a capacity of 24 guests. The barges will allow the pricing on the canal itineraries to also be more aggressive than existing, more expensive canal barge trips that can often host only six to 12 passengers onboard.
CroisiEurope2Tour operator Abercrombie & Kent had resisted the river cruise market for years, focusing solely on those much smaller capacity and intimate canal barges in Europe.

But last year, the company introduced its first river cruise program with the launch of Connections by A&K, its new line of itineraries priced about 30% less per diem than a typical A&K small-group journey.

For 2014, Connections by A&K is expanding its river cruise offering from three departures in 2013 on the 152-passenger Amadeus Brilliant, to 18 departures in 2014 on a fleet of three Amadeus ships. The vessels are owned by Austrian shipping company Luftner Cruises, and Connections will limit its onboard group sizes to 24 passengers.

For 2014, Connections will offer nine river cruise itineraries ranging from nine to 17 days.

The river cruise industry “is growing by leaps and bounds,” Hughes said. “They’re getting innovative, they’re getting more competitive.” All of which, she said, is better for retailers in this swelling market segment, as well as for their clients.

Anthem of the Seas to sail out of Southampton?

Anthem of the Seas steel cutting ceremony held

Just before Royal Caribbean celebrated the keel-laying of Quantum of the Seas today, another milestone was reached for another brand new cruise ship.  Sister ship Anthem of the Seas had her first steel-cutting at Meyer Werft shipyard's laser centre.
The steel-cutting for Quantum of the Seas took place in February 2013 and today's event is the next step for Anthem of the Seas, which has been relatively quiet in terms of news about her.  
Delivery of Anthem of the Seas is scheduled in the spring 2015.
UPDATE 11:09AM: Royal Caribbean President and CEO Adam Goldstein commented on the ceremonies for both Anthem of the Seas and Quantum of the Seas today, "Today is a very special day in the development of our new Quantum class, as we are now two steps closer to delighting guests around the world with Quantum cruising.  It’s incredibly rewarding to see Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas coming together so well, and today we not only honor these two very important milestones, but also recognize the years of hard work and dedication from the team developing these ships."

More proof Anthem of the Seas to sail out of Southampton

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Royal Caribbean has been quiet on details related to its second Quantum class ship, Anthem of the Seas, to this point but we may know a little more about where this new cruise ship is going.  
A schedule of cruises from the Port of Le Havre, France shows a number of ports of call by Anthem of the Seas in 2015, which gives more evidence that Anthem of the Seas will be based out of Southampton, England.
Upon further inspection, the schedule of calls to Le Havre matches Independence of the Seas' current itineraries for 2014.  Some are speculating that Anthem of the Seas will replace Independence of the Seas.
If you have your doubts about this information being accurate, keep in mind we saw a similar occurence with Quantum of the Seas in February when the Port of St Maarten posted a schedules similar to Le Havre with Quantum of the Seas listed and that turned out to be accurate.  

Port Canaveral aims big with new terminal size

Port Canaveral aims big with new terminal size

By Tom Stieghorst

Port Canaveral, already one of the powerhouse cruise ports worldwide, recently said it will be adding a new terminal in the next year capable of handling “the largest cruise ships currently sailing, as well as the 6,000-passenger vessels in design.”

That phrase brought to mind the only ships capable of carrying 6,000 passengers: The Oasis-class vessels of Royal Caribbean International.
The pair make their home at Port Everglades, about 175 miles to the south. But a third copy is being built for delivery in 2016. Could one of the trio make its home at Port Canaveral?
Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.,  isn’t tipping his hand quite yet. He says too much can be made of the “6,000-passenger reference.”*TomStieghorst 

At a recent dinner aboard the Vision of the Seas, Fain said the same reference was made when the new Kai Tak passenger terminal was opened in Hong Kong harbor last year.
”Oasis has sort of become the standard when they say they’re capable of dealing with the largest ships being built,” Fain said. “So you shouldn’t read too much into that.”

The 185,000 square foot terminal at Port Canaveral will be the first modern one on the south side of the port’s ship channel. It will be adjacent to the port’s newly opened Exploration Tower, as well as the shops and restaurants on that side of the port.
“Cruise visitors will be able to walk outside the terminal to enjoy port destination options or depart from the terminal and Exploration Tower to enjoy area excursions,” said John Walsh, the port's director.

Announcements regarding tenants for the new $85 million terminal, which comes with its own 1,000-space parking garage, are expected soon, Walsh added.
There is another possibility, or two.  One is that the new terminal could be for Anthem of the Seas, the sister ship to Quantum of the Seas, and a class somewhat smaller than Oasis. Royal is expected to announce the home port and itineraries for the Anthem as soon as this week. 

Although speculation currently centers on Southampton, England, the Canaveral terminal is slated to open next November, in time for the spring 2015 debut of the Anthem.
Also, Disney Cruise Line is putting three of its four ships in Port Canaveral to start 2015. Disney already has a dedicated terminal at Port Canaveral, but with the Magic Kingdom only an hour away, Disney has unique needs in central Florida. Carnival Cruise Lines is also at Port Canaveral with several ships.
One way or another, Port Canaveral is on the march. It should be interesting to watch where it is going.

Royal Caribbean planning announcement on November 21

Primary tabs

Royal Caribbean UK is teasing the event with the phrase, "A date that'll be music to your ears", which seems to play on the ship's name of Anthem.
The special event will be held in London at 4:30pm local time.
There's been speculation for months that Anthem of the Seas will be based in the UK, with a cruise port schedule site tipping many off earlier this year.  Royal Caribbean has been quiet on details for Anthem of the Seas beyond it had its first steel cutting back in August.
Anthem of the Seas will be the second Quantum-class ship behind sister ship Quantum of the Seas.  She is expected to debut in the spring of 2015.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Carnival Sunshine begins New Orleans cruises

Carnival Sunshine begins New Orleans cruises

By Jerry Limone

The Carnival Sunshine will embark on its first cruise from New Orleans on Monday afternoon, sailing to Cozumel and Grand Cayman on a six-day cruise.

Carnival Cruise Lines said the 3,006-passenger Sunshine is the largest Carnival ship to be based in New Orleans. The Sunshine will sail from New Orleans year-round.

Earlier this year, the Sunshine emerged from a $155 million makeover that transformed the former Carnival Destiny. The ship was lengthened and 151 staterooms were added. It also received dining and entertainment upgrades under the Carnival Fun Ship 2.0 program

MSC Cruises pinning U.S. market hopes on Divina

MSC Cruises pinning U.S. market hopes on Divina

By Tom Stieghorst
MSC DivinaMIAMI — Even though the MSC Divina made its debut in the Mediterranean 18 months ago, it will be met with fanfare when it arrives here this week.

The Divina is both the largest vessel in MSC’s 12-ship fleet and the first devoted to year-round sailing in North America.

For Rick Sasso, president of MSC Cruises USA, the Divina’s arrival marks the culmination of 10 years of effort to put MSC on the travel map outside of Europe.

The ship will be sailing a three-day preview cruise for thousand of agents, media and VIPs before launching seven-night cruises out of Miami to the Caribbean.

An aggressive and varied marketing campaign has been rolled out to prepare the ship for a successful North American debut.

Sasso said it will be a significant opportunity for agents to familiarize themselves with the MSC brand.

MSC has invested heavily in the Divina’s launch. For the first time, the company will advertise on TV in the U.S., and in another first, it will mount a consumer public relations campaign.

Much of the effort can be traced to yet another first: a day-long travel agent advisory council meeting in October.

Although Sasso and his marketing vice president, Ken Muskat, declined to disclose the promotion budget, they say MSC has opened its wallet.

“They understand what it takes to penetrate a market like this, especially when you’re a fairly unknown brand,” Muskat said.

The TV ads began appearing 10 days ago on cable channels including Discovery, Fox News, MSNBC and HGTV. There are also radio spots and billboards in key markets such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, New York and Chicago.

Muskat has directed a Twitter and Facebook campaign to publicize the Divina since June. MSC’s agent website features a four-part video introduction, and MSC has been giving away a cruise a day to agents since October, a promotion that will continue through the end of the year.

MSC is battling some headwinds in its efforts to become more established in North America.

Many agents say they cannot afford to focus too much on cruise lines that are not big players in North America. While a year-round ship with a 3,959-passenger capacity improves on the seasonal presence MSC has had to date, it is still just one ship.

Other agents say past experience has been discouraging.

“I’ve had a few clients go on MSC,” said Denise Rogers of Palm Beach Travel Genie in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. “It wasn’t their cup of tea.”

Sasso said MSC has been rapidly evolving to address past service and product concerns and that the Divina has been specially tailored to American tastes in food, smoking and entertainment.

Crew training has been a big emphasis, and U.S. executives were allowed to hand-pick key staff for Divina’s redeployment.

The Divina is also arriving at a time when Wall Street analysts are voicing concerns about overcapacity in the Caribbean. Ten weeks after Divina arrives, the Norwegian Getaway will debut, adding another 4,000 berths to the market on a year-round basis.

To leverage its resources, MSC has been courting agents since Sasso arrived at the company in 2004. Even as it appeals to consumers for the first time, it has ramped up trade marketing.

Muskat has led a series of road shows this year in cities that included New York, Miami and Philadelphia and has participated in every travel trade show he could schedule.

In mid-October, MSC Cruises Executive Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago flew from Geneva to Miami to attend the travel agent advisory council, which included top agency groups representing 80% of North American cruise sales.

“It’s a big deal for us, and its something we’re going to continue to do twice a year, ongoing,” Muskat said of the advisory council.

MSC redid the audio from its European TV ads to feature a travel agent call to action. And by year’s end, it will have given away about 65 weeklong cruises to agents who achieve a specific level of sales activity, mostly targeted at the Divina.

“We know that our primary attention has to be focused on Divina right now, because if we make that ship successful, that halo effect to send North Americans over to Europe to experience our other ships will be a tremendous benefit for us,” Muskat said.

He added: “We know this is where many travel agents will see us, experience us, for the first time, and then we can really get their focus on the rest of the beautiful ships we have in the fleet.”

Carnival Sunshine officially renamed

Carnival Sunshine officially renamed

Carnival Sunshine has finally been officially renamed following its major renovation and unofficial rebranding earlier this year.

Back in May, the vessel - formerly known as the Carnival Destiny - underwent a complete overhaul worth $155 million (£96 million), with the creation of new entertainments including a huge waterpark, new dining venues and improved cabins.

Although it has been sailing on Mediterranean itineraries during the summer, the Sunshine arrived in New Orleans this weekend to be officially renamed in a ceremony that included jazz music and godmother Lin Arison; arts patron, philanthropist and widow of the late Carnival Corporation founder Ted Arison.

Cruise Critic reports that she said: "I think one of the most exciting things that happened today, for me, was going around the ship and seeing the transformation.

"I know that it's going to continue being lucky, which is the most important thing for a ship."

At the ceremony itself, there was a marching band, as well as an assortment of singers and dancers, with performers hailing from the National YoungArts Foundation, which was established by the Arisons.

When the ship was christened the first time as the Destiny, it was the world's largest vessel.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Genesis of a river cruise

Genesis of a river cruise

By Michelle Baran

It's high noon in New Delhi at the tail end of the monsoon season, and it's difficult not to be distracted by the mounting heat as we tour Humayun's Tomb. Our still-jet-lagged group is trying -- and admittedly largely failing -- to stay tuned in to the explanation of the historical and architectural significance of the site when I hear a Polish-accented voice ask our tour guide with total focus, "And how many steps are there?"

I glanced over to see Wanda Kowalczyk, vice president of product development at Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, taking notes on a red clipboard that would be her constant companion during much of the two weeks we traveled through India as part of a scouting trip hosted by Haimark Ltd.

Kowalczyk noted every little factoid about the destination, from descriptions of the monuments to the hotel amenities to, yes, even the exact number of steps that must be climbed to reach certain sites -- steps Uniworld's clients will have to climb if the company decides to introduce an India itinerary in partnership with Haimark.

Wesley Bosnic, senior vice president of strategic development at Uniworld, explained, "We have to keep in mind the profile of our guests. The expectation from our guests is that they trust Uniworld; they trust the brand."
Wanda Kowalczyk of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection on a rickshaw ride in a Ganges riverside town.Bosnic was traveling with Kowalczyk on a two-week preview trip that would help Uniworld and several other potential partners decide whether to charter a Ganges River ship that Haimark will launch in 2015 and develop a corresponding India itinerary.

"Obviously," Kowalczyk chimed in during our interview onboard a train from Jaipur to Agra toward the end of our journey, "the services are very important: the hotels ... transportation, quality of the guides. We need guides who tell a story. You look to have some Unesco [World Heritage] sites, great museums, as well. And to have fun!"

After years of destination reconnaissance, product development teams like Kowalczyk and Bosnic know exactly what they're looking for. Having pored over guest feedback, they have learned what their customers want -- and what they definitely do not want -- from a vacation, and they factor that into every decision they make about creating and building itineraries.

Depending on the company, the process can be extremely refined, a precise checklist that product development staff take with them to determine if a new destination or itinerary is fit for their travelers. Or it can be a bit more fluid and intuitive, with looser parameters.

But what struck me most as I got a rare glimpse behind the curtain of the product development methodology (normally companies only want to have the media see the complete and polished package) is just how much effort and emotion go into vetting itineraries, an exercise that rarely gets much exposure due to its very behind-the-scenes nature.

Deciding on new destinations

The very first step in product development is determining which destinations are worth the time and energy to scout out. Operators take their inspiration from myriad reference points.
Wesley Bosnic, senior vice president of strategic development at Uniworld, at the Taj Mahal.Pam Hoffee, vice president of product and operations for the Globus family of brands, wrote in an email: "New destinations or itineraries start from many sources: trade requests, consumer media coverage, customer suggestions, tour director suggestions, etc. Once they are agreed upon, our product team starts the process of vetting the itinerary and turning an idea into a vacation. We start with a lot of online research, talking to tourist boards, hotels and cool attractions in the region, to start to understand what there is to see and do."

Not surprisingly, many operators rely on "people on the ground" -- operators, guides and destination marketing organizations -- to tip them off to interesting new destinations, sites and attractions.

Haimark is building its business on discovering new and emerging markets in which to develop product with its river cruise vessels, then partnering with larger tour operators to sell it. In essence, Haimark actually pre-vets emerging destinations for larger tour operators and serves as a bridge between the operators and the destinations.

Haimark Managing Partner Tom Markwell said the company has to address a host of questions and concerns before it decides to invest in a destination and sell it to potential partners.

"First of all, what's the airlift like?" Markwell said. "How easy is it to get in and out of this place? If it's not easy to get there, you're already reducing a large number of passengers. Then, is there life along the river? Is it overly touristic? Are there authentic experiences, or are they going to see just sand banks? That's a large part of validating whether a river cruise is justifiable. If there's no life, architecture, people-to-people experiences, it's not going to work."
The Bengal Ganga served as the vessel for Haimarks Ganges River scouting trip.Scouting new destinations, of course, depends a lot on which demographic the company is targeting: their age, physical ability, budget, discerning tastes, level of adventurousness. Those and numerous other qualifiers are all integral to deciding where and what to explore.

For companies that have built their business on going farther off the beaten path than their competitors, scouting new destinations means getting innovative.

"We spend a lot of time researching different destinations and finding out which is the next one," said Scott Avera, vice president of product development at General Tours World Traveler.

General Tours has built its legacy on taking travelers to countries that are off the mainstream travel market's radar. For one thing, the company keeps an eye on new destinations for the European source market, because, Avera said, Europeans tend to venture into emerging destinations before U.S. travelers do.

Another thing that tips off the General Tours team to emerging destinations are places that clients book through the tour operator's custom travel department.

"Those people tend to want to be in those destinations first," Avera said. When the company detects a critical mass of custom tours being booked in a new destination, he said, it's usually a good sign that it's time to look into developing a brochure product for it.

General Tours President Bob Drumm recently scouted Sri Lanka as a potential emerging market, and consequently the company is introducing the destination for 2014.
Haimark executives and their shipbuilders meet at a shipyard in Kolkata.When it comes to new destinations, almost no place is off limits for adventure tour operator G Adventures, which already sends clients to 110 countries around the globe. Finding new places to sell means continually pushing the envelope.

"Our customers, they can be a bit hard-core," said Jeff Russill, vice president of innovation at G Adventures, which just introduced the Philippines and Sierra Leone to its product mix.

Whether or not G Adventures will scope out a new destination isn't dependent on the airlift or the hotel infrastructure.

"No. 1 is safety," Russill said. "We're an adventure travel company, so we have to be even more on guard than anybody else. That's the cost of entry for us; that's table stakes."

Asked if some destinations in the world simply aren't compelling enough to check out, Russill responded, "Every country has something that's going to interest someone."

The checklist

Once it has been decided that a destination is worth exploring, out comes the checklist, however formal or informal it might be, to determine which elements of the itinerary will stay and which will go, as well as if and when the itinerary gets developed, contracted, marketed and, hopefully, sold.

"That guide will not be taking Uniworld clients around," Kowalczyk whispered to me about a tour leader in India who had rubbed a few of us the wrong way with some curt comments and flippant remarks. Kowalczyk's spot decision about a potential supplier is indicative of the observations made on the road that inform contract decisions further down the line.
Scene from a rickshaw ride through Varanasi, India.Uniworld serves a high-end clientele, so it has set the barometer for service and amenities on its European river cruises rather high. As the company seeks new and emerging destinations to enter, it has to be sure it can maintain brand consistency with its European product.

Not surprisingly, before all the other elements are assembled, Uniworld first has to be sure there's a suitable vessel for its passengers in any new destination.

Asked what first entices him and Kowalczyk to scout out a new destination, Bosnic said, "It is the hardware. And when I say it's the hardware, it's the experience onboard. We want to make sure that the onboard experience is as close as possible to [our European experience]. Whatever we do, we want to be confident that we are doing the very best in the destination."

Working with third parties in destinations outside Europe means that Uniworld has to go in and make sure that, on the ship and off, its standards are upheld.

Markwell, who is working to sell exotic product in places like and Cambodia to upscale partners like Uniworld, observed that different partners have different priorities. Some, for example, want to be sure there is Western food available, while other companies push for more local cuisine.
Michelle Baran, left, with Wanda Kowalczyk at the Taj Mahal.He is also sure to communicate that certain things that might be expected in established markets just aren't going to be available farther afield. For example, he said, river cruise ships in India and Southeast Asia just can't offer dry cleaning or direct-dial phones. Part of the product development process, he said, simply comes down to managing expectations.

Good guide, good food

Perhaps one of the destination must-haves most consistently emphasized by product development teams is a knowledgeable and personable guide, one who will sell the destination and the experience and, most importantly, make it a memorable trip.

"A definite no is if there's not a good guide in that area," Avera said, echoing a sentiment that has practically become an industry-wide maxim. "Without a great guide, packaged travel just doesn't work."

In Avera's case, that condition tops the criteria of a company that seems willing to go almost anywhere in the world.

On the other hand, niche travel companies that cater to adventure-seeking customers are less concerned about the destination's tourism infrastructure (they've found ways around that) than they are about good guides and safety conditions.

In order to go into less-developed regions of the world, they often simply create their own infrastructure.

G Adventures, for example, will do home stays or set up campsites in areas where hotels are not sufficient. And in West Africa, the company uses its 150-passenger vessel, the Expedition, which sails from South Africa to Morocco, to provide an alternative to the minimal land accommodations available in that part of the world.

But even more rugged travelers have their standards. Russill noted that no matter how rudimentary the accommodations, it's important to most G Adventures customers that the accommodations be clean. WiFi availability is also becoming increasingly important as travelers of all ages and backgrounds become more attached to their mobile devices and social networks.
Uniworlds Wesley Bosnic in Varanasi, India.Food presents another interesting challenge. Bringing people to remote corners of the world means not having full control of the quality and sanitary condition of the food being served or of the hygiene of all the staff who participate in its preparation, which could result in travelers getting ill.

In areas where the tour operator can't be confident about the restaurants or dining options generally available, General Tours has been forced to get creative and have a local expat host guests for a meal at his or her home.

For its part, G Adventures relies on those trusted, all-important guides to steer travelers toward local eateries and away from touristic restaurants in order to avoid food-borne illnesses.

"Most Westernized restaurants in far-out countries, those are the ones that you're going to get sick at," Russill said. "Eat where it's busy with locals, because then it's freshly made."

Clearly, General Tours' and G Adventures' travelers are cut from a different cloth than clients of a more mainstream or upscale tour operator would be. While an adventure operator's product development team might be scoping out a roadside eatery in Yunnan province, product development managers at a more traditional upscale brand might be comparing tasting menus at five-star resorts in Marrakech.

But no matter what kind of traveler they're serving, the goal is the same: to create and build an itinerary that delivers customer satisfaction.

From approval to print

One of my favorite anecdotes from traveling through India with Uniworld's Kowalczyk and Bosnic came after a hair-rising rickshaw ride through the packed streets of Varanasi, en route to the Ganges River bank to witness the evening's spiritual ceremony.

As we descended from our carriages, half terrified and half exhilarated at having survived the utter havoc of the holy city, Kowalczyk told me of a similar white-knuckled ride they experienced on rickshaws when scouting out Hanoi for Uniworld's Mekong River cruise.
Uniworlds Wanda Kowalczyk with a holy man.Back then, Kowalczyk concluded that such rides would be a bit too much excitement for Uniworld guests. But Bosnic countered, "They're going to love it!"

"And he was right," Kowalczyk admitted. "They love it."

Reconnoitering a destination and deciding whether or not it will make a good packaged travel product for consumers is only one piece in the process of creating a successful itinerary.

After concluding the trip in India, Kowalczyk and Bosnic said they would head back to Uniworld's headquarters in Encino, Calif., to prepare a presentation for the rest of the company.

"We enjoyed [the India product]," Bosnic said. "It's great, but what type of commitment? What kind of volume? All of that requires a little more research."

Having ventured out and experienced the product themselves, it seems only natural that product development teams would get a bit emotional about the destinations they have visited. But they also realize that just because they enjoyed certain places doesn't always mean those destinations would work for their clients.

I asked if Bosnic and Kowalczyk had ever been disappointed by a decision the company made not to create product for a destination they felt had potential. Bosnic immediately threw out Myanmar.

"We really liked Myanmar," he said. "We thought it was a destination that was different enough from Vietnam and Cambodia. But the shareholders felt that it's still a little early to get in there."

Once they've done the reconnaissance, product development teams hand over their research to other tour departments, which do additional research to decide if it can become a viable, sellable product. If they decide to move forward, the process moves on to pricing, marketing and selling the new itinerary.

"The product manager creates the itinerary and hands it off, along with some notes of hotels they'd like to see in the mix," Globus' Hoffee said. "We have a separate contracting team who then source the hotels and other vendors to bring the vacation to life."

The product development team members represent the front line, and their job is only the beginning of a much longer process than sometimes can take several years to complete.

But their very existence on the payroll at any tour or river cruise operation is a testament to how hands-on the product-building process is. While an operator could probably build a rudimentary itinerary with a few phone calls and email queries to some suppliers, there would be no guarantee that those suppliers or the destination itself would actually deliver. Firsthand immersion is really the only way to find out.

As we traveled through India, we heard stories about bygone emperors' food tasters, whose job it was to test the meal for assassination-by-poison by putting their own lives on the line. It struck me that product development teams are a bit like food tasters. While a negative outcome is far less extreme, it falls to them to test every bit of the product for safety and viability before it gets consumed by travellers.