Military vets get MSC Seaside bonanza

MSC Cruises had an “Oprah moment” for agents who are military veterans. Photo Credit: Arnie Weissmann

A group of more than 30 travel agents who are military veterans got a surprise on the final day of CruiseWorld when MSC Cruises awarded them spots on a preview cruise for the new MSC Seaside a year from now.

At first, MSC vice president of sales, public relations and guest services Ken Muskat gathered the vets on stage for recognition on Veteran’s Day and a drawing that would have awarded one Seaside cruise.

“I’m feeling an Oprah moment,” Muskat said, alluding to the talk show host’s propensity for giving away valuables to everyone in the studio audience for her show.

As the room rose to its feet in applause, Muskat and his colleagues awarded the Seaside prize to all of the vets on stage.

The giveaway continued MSC’s focus on veterans as a market segment. At last year’s CruiseWorld, MSC sponsored a Veteran’s Day reception and fireworks show at the waterfront Perez Art Museum in Miami.

CruiseWorld, a Travel Weekly event for travel suppliers and agents, is held every November at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale.

Familiar themes emerge at CruiseWorld China

From left: Alan Buckelew of Carnival Corp., Adam Goldstein of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Frank Del Rio of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Gianni Onorato of MSC Cruises.

BEIJING — To U.S. travel agents, the themes that emerged from this week’s CruiseWorld China might have seemed reminiscent of issues that surfaced over the past three decades of cruise industry development in the U.S.

“We need to bring across the idea that the cruise is the destination, instead of just a mode of transportation,” said Zheng Weihang, executive vice president and secretary general of the China Cruise & Yacht Industry Association.

Adam Goldstein, chairman of CLIA and president and COO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., added: “A vast number of people have no idea what a cruise vacation is about, what happens onboard and how it offers great value.”

And Anthony Kaufman, executive vice president of International Operations for Princess Cruises, counseled that a travel agent’s responsibility includes “understanding the uniqueness of each cruise product and imparting that knowledge to the consumers.”

Although much of the conversation sounded like Cruise Sales 101, not all of the issues facing a quickly-growing, rapidly evolving industry have a North American parallel. The vast majority of cruises in China are charters, with cabins sold by a handful of mega-agencies, some of them larger than the cruise lines themselves. They, in turn, rely on a network of sub-agencies to help them fill ships.

The sustainability of the charter model was called into question by most of the cruise executives present, though none called for abandoning it outright. The general consensus was that it has helped the market get to where it is today, but more diversity in sales options will be healthier for long-term growth.

Calling charters a “force-feeding” model, Zinan Liu, Royal Caribbean International’s president of China and North Asia Pacific region and chairman of CLIA North Asia, said the charter model was successful in the past six years when consumer awareness was low and the sales force of cruise lines small. He predicted it will likely continue to coexist with other distribution models.

Kaufman noted that it continues to be the foundation for China’s cruise market and at present enables travel agencies to maintain better control of the customer experience and pricing. But, he said, whether it continues to dominate might depend on individual company strategies.

That each of the four largest cruise lines was represented by a top corporate executive suggests that China’s potential is still very much front of mind:

• Carnival Corp. COO Alan Buckelew provided an overview of the company’s 10 brands and revealed that the most luxurious Princess ship yet built will sail Chinese waters.

• Goldstein wore two hats. As chairman of CLIA, he provided an overview of industry growth, with a focus on China, and as president and COO of RCCL, he promoted Royal Caribbean International ships.

• Norwegian Cruise Line Holding Ltd. CEO Frank Del Rio provided updated details about the Norwegian Joy, a ship being built specially for the Chinese market, whose inaugural cruise is slated for June 23.

• MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato provided more details after having announced the day before that a second ship, the Splendida, would be heading to China to join the Lirica.

In addition to the international development and regional line executives quoted above, onstage were Buhdy Bok, president of Costa Group Asia; David Herrera, president of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings China; Roger Chen, chairman of Carnival Corp. China; Harry Sommer, executive vice president for international development at Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings; Helen Huang, president of Greater China, MSC Cruises; and Fan Min, chairman and CEO of SkySea Cruise Line.

Norwegian Cruise Line has no plans for brand expansion

Norwegian Cruise Line has no plans for brand expansion

By Tom Stieghorst
2013CruiseWorld_logo200x115FORT LAUDERDALE — Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings will stick with its core competencies and not acquire or start brands other than its flagship Norwegian brand, CEO Kevin Sheehan said at the CruiseWorld event on Friday.

Sheehan said he looked at several acquisitions after he came to Norwegian in 2008 but decided against them.

“I don’t want to create distractions for our team,” Sheehan said. “We have so many opportunities with our brand.”

In addition, Sheehan told travel agents that Norwegian is a variety of brands under one name. The Haven ship-within-a-ship luxury areas on Norwegian ships function as a luxury line, he said.

CruiseWorld 2013 Kevin Sheehan and Arnie WeissmannHe also cited a focus on solo cabins, family programs with Nickelodeon and the Pride of America ship in Hawaii as other brand-like experiences within Norwegian Cruise Line.

Sheehan said he is working hard to keep Norwegian focused on its own long-term future and goals, now that the company has become publicly traded. He said he would have preferred to go public later, but the private-equity owners needed some “affirmation” for their investors.

“I have always said to our investors, I know you are watching the next quarter, but I’m watching the next five years,” Sheehan said.

The next big event on Norwegian’s horizon is the arrival of Norwegian Getaway, which will sail from Miami year-round. Norwegian last had a ship sail seven-day cruises year-round from Miami 10 years ago.

Sheehan said he has tried to keep Norwegian’s ships consistently positioned to provide stability for travel agents, and that a limited number of ships left Miami as a seasonal market, until now.

Getaway is in the final stages of construction and is expected to arrive in New York in early February for a week’s duty as the Bud Light Hotel at the Super Bowl before coming to Miami for its maiden voyage.

Sheehan pointed out that Norwegian started the modern cruise industry in Miami 45 years ago.

“It’s just getting back to where we should have been all along,” he said.

Sheehan was the third cruise CEO to address CruiseWorld attendees, following talks by Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. CEO Richard Fain.