'Brilliant and long overdue'
'I think the concept is brilliant and perhaps long overdue. As an itinerary planner I will certainly be using Zielia and would encourage ports and cruise destinations to consider also using the service as a more effective and sustainable way to provide information,' Seabourn's Tim Littley, senior director, deployment & itinerary planning, told Seatrade Cruise News.
'The cruise industry is growing and evolving at a blistering pace and so are cruise destinations. The volume of information we receive through printed collateral or memory sticks is staggering and quite frankly not productive,' Littley continued. 'Knowing that there is a single source of high quality, user-friendly and up-to-date information available will change how I approach destination research.'
In developing Zielia.com, Shannon McKee, a cruise line veteran and founder & president of Miami-based Access Cruise, answered planners' plea: 'It would be great if we could have everything in one place, someplace we can go any time.' She took a holistic approach, thinking of everything the itinerary people, port and marine teams, shore excursions and marketing groups need.
The result is Zielia.com, chock-full of timely information in a clean, easy-to-use format that's also a sustainable alternative to paper and memory sticks that end up in the landfill.
An account is free for cruise line planners, while destinations pay a yearly flat fee.
Seatrade Cruise News took a spin. After 'destination explorers' sign in, they click on a global map to access a destination or search by region, ship length, draft, air draft, minimum passengers per day and dock or anchor ports.
In a single page are a photo, an embedded, Google map to zoom in and out and quick facts such as UN/LO code, address, latitude/longitude coordinates, time zone, berthing types (dock/anchor), immigration and customs restrictions, local currency, accepted currencies and languages spoken.
Short sections succinctly summarize why anyone should visit, give a destination overview, future plans and contacts.
A separate port page has photos, a Google map, facts like distance to city center and availability of facilities like restrooms, shopping, phones, ATM, currency exchange, Internet access and more, while a transportation table spells out local options. Port access, fees, services and pilotage can be detailed, or technical documents can be downloaded.
A marketing page provides current images and videos that can be used in cruise line marketing materials, plus downloadable collateral.
A calendar shows holidays, festivals, events and, when known, ships in port—however, this is not a berthing calendar.
What's in it for ports?
Zielia benefits ports and destinations by unburdening them of extensive cruise line requests. According to McKee, 'Every cruise line asks every port to fill out documentation. It takes hours and hours and hours.'
Yves Gilson, director, marketing and cruises, Montréal Port Authority, said he values Zielia.com because it gives itinerary planners all the information and contacts they need in one place and because the information is controlled by the destination.
'I can add, update or change the content immediately,' Gilson said. 'There is nothing more frustrating than seeing cruise lines selling the destination with the wrong information or old videos and photos.'
Destinations are expected to provide holistic information—not just port details but everything about a place.
'We want it to be very robust,' McKee said. Destinations are responsible for updating the information, and the site sends regular notices to remind them. Site users can see when a page was last updated.
A list of questions prompts the content needed. Photos can be dragged and dropped, and pdfs and Excel files uploaded.
McKee, who co-founded Zielia.com with Sydel Corp., a software developer, has presented the site to many cruise line planners and is just beginning to sign on ports. She's also talking with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association and port/destination groups about potential partnerships and will be holding meetings at Seatrade Cruise Global.
Her biggest challenge: 'For it to be a useful tool, we're looking for a critical mass of destinations,' McKee explained. This sometimes means dealing with government entities, which can get bogged down in red tape.
But she's not daunted. Her target is 3,000 destinations.
Zielia.com collaborates with PortCall.com, which provides synchronized vessel scheduling for ports, pilots and agents. 'We're looking to incorporate PortCall features into Zielia,' McKee said, 'and they are trying to break into the cruise industry.'
'A shot at becoming the one-stop shop'
An itinerary planner at a major line who asked not to be named seems impressed.
'Zielia.com is trying to bridge the information gap between cruise lines and destinations,' he said. 'Cruise lines—specifically, Itinerary planning and port operations teams—are in a constant need of critical information to make educated decisions about their deployments.
'Most of the time,' he continued, 'information is already out there, a Google search or an email away. 'However, often the data we need is in a scattered and disorganized form, and, more importantly, it is not readily available.
'Nowadays, immediate access to reliable, consistent, up-to-date information is key. For these reasons, I welcome what Zielia.com set out to accomplish. Once their adoption rate from destinations around the world is such to create the necessary critical mass, I feel they will have a good shot at becoming the one-stop shop where cruise lines executives will turn to for the data we all need.'