Canada/New England's cruise business is growing but it's just a 1.1% sliver of global capacity, and its market share is shrinking. Plus, cruises are concentrated in the autumn, which makes a challenge for destinations to get returns on the hefty cost of infrastructure to accommodate bigger ships and further growth.
Split into 13 tables of 10, symposium attendees hashed over issues to come up with recommendations.
Though everyone agreed Canada/New England has lots to offer—history, culture, friendly people, good food, beauty, nature—that diversity may actually muddle an effective branding message.
There isn't one iconic or one central image for the region, said Harold Quesada, market planning manager, Disney Cruise Line, who led a table that delved into demand.
The fall foliage emphasis, though, has to go, workshop participants agreed.
Among other points: develop products to attract younger, more adventurous travelers, focus on the family/multigenerational market, emphasize experiential activities, undertake market research to understand prospective travelers for the summer.
Further suggestions included create a joint marketing fund. Hire a brand manager for Canada/New England. Market cooperatively with the cruise lines.
'Increase marketing for the region. You don't brag enough. You've got great tours, great experiences, great products,' said Hein Erasums, product manager, tour operations, Carnival Cruise Line.
And all the regional associations should work together. 'It's got to be collective,' said Chris Martin, director, port operations, Holland America Group.
'Compete on a world level with new products and use of technology,' advised Erika Tache, director, product development, tour operations, Carnival, whose table focused on revenue.
Other recommendations from participants: tailor experiences for specific groups, such as families with young children. Stay authentic. Combine adventure with food and/or beverages to boost the appeal and the revenue of shore excursions.
Give incentives in fee structures for summer calls, advised another revenue group, led by Tim Littley, director, deployment and itinerary planning, Seabourn.
Provide consistent and regular communications. Educate and train the trade, urged Denise Reichwein Lees, regional sales director, Northeast US, MSC Cruises USA, whose table was tasked with promotion and guest satisfaction.
As each of the 13 teams presented their ideas to the room, many overlapped. That was encouraging to members of the Cruise Canada/New England Alliance, chaired by Amy Powers, director, CruiseMaine USA.
'It reconfirmed a lot of things we felt and knew. It's important we came to the same conclusions. It shows we are all on the same page in a lot of ways,' said Nora Fever, chair of the Atlantic Canada Cruise Association and business development manager, Corner Brook Port Corp.
'Working toward the collective regional theme or brand seems to be the thing that came out crystal-clear with all the groups,' she added.
'It's like a seal of approval we have to act on,' agreed René Trépanier, executive director, Cruise the Saint Lawrence, who said the Cruise Canada/New England Alliance partners already share responsibilities but this will help formalize that.
'There were a lot of great ideas,' said Elizabeth Shearin, vp, director of cruise operations, New York City Economic Development Corp./NYCruise. These will be used to 'design our template to take our strategic plan and partnership to the next level.'
It was the right mix of stakeholders—ports, convention and visitors bureaus, tour operators, cruise lines, according to Michael Vanderbeek, deputy director, Massport/Cruiseport Boston, who moderated the workshop. He said the alliance should be thinking 10 years out as it develops its new strategic plan.
From at least one cruise line's perspective, the format of the symposium was 'a very good way to change up the historic panels to have a lot more interaction,' Holland America Group's Martin said. 'The discussion was very productive. The question is where do you go now? Who's going to drive it forward?'