Panelists said destinations do have the power to draw ships ships by looking to fill needs, differentiating experiences and harnessing social media to create demand.
'You do have power,' Ugo Savino, director, deployment & itinerary planning, Carnival Cruise Line, told workshop attendees.
'You don't have to buy Super Bowl ads to advertise your destination. Social media has slashed to a fraction the cost of advertising. You can customize, personalize and target. Do you track rates to see the power of your brand? Do you look at word search online?' Savino asked.
Shaping the message to why someone's traveling
Demographics don't tell the whole story, he added. When crafting messaging, look at psychographics that drive the reasons for travel.
The same person may have different needs and interests depending on whether they're cruising just with their spouse or with family or as a group of friends from high school.
Solving a problem and winning the business
Here's how one aspiring tour operator broke into the cruise business in another region this year while also addressing sustainability: In his destination, where buses are scarce, he crafted walking tours within a 10-minute radius of the port.
This cut the need for 600 bus seats and, at the same time, carbon emissions, an 'amazing' effort, according to Mike Bush, product manager, shore excursions, Holland America Line and Seabourn.
'Keep coming to us with ideas,' Bush urged. One way to break in is by looking at a port similar to yours and thinking of something fresh to offer.
Experiences sell the cruise
Travelers are enticed by the experiences they can have in the ports when shopping for a cruise so lines aim to feature great destination content on their websites, said Azamara's Paul Chapple, head of land development & operations.
This is why Azamara makes the excursions visible online, pre-booking, and destinations can help by providing 'merchandisable assets so we can market the cruises.'
For a line like Azamara, whose ships stay longer in port and overnight, 'We would love to sell two tours in a day to same passenger,' Chapple said. 'Think about how activities in your destination change from morning to evening to night.'
An array of different brand needs
'Differentiate' for each brand, urged Hein Erasmus, senior manager, port adventures & recreation, Disney Cruise Line. 'I'm a family-centered brand. I want niche experiences with a cultural point of view.'
In planning the new Lookout Cay at Lighthouse Point in Eleuthera, 'We really want a cultural interaction,' so the Bahamas' Junkanoo traditions are highlighted. Disney seeks niche experiences as well as water attractions.
With their fleet growing, Erasmus and his team are busy traveling to work with destinations on training and how to elevate experiences for Disney cruisers.
AIDA Cruises draws a young, active crowd. They love hiking, walking and bicycling, said Sandra Neffgen, head of shore excursions.
And, of course, German-speaking guides are a must and the No. 1 need when crafting AIDA tours.
'The shore excursion portfolio is never "set,"' Neffgen added. 'It always has to be adapted and expanded.'
For SeaDream Yacht Club's demanding clientele, authenticity is key, said Emilio Freeman, VP itineraries & destinations, SeaDream Yacht Club.
The brand focuses on yacht harbors, hideaways and beaches, so this gives opportunity for destinations with less infrastructure. A pier isn't needed. 'We prefer to tender,' Freeman said.
'Send us a year-round ship'
The Caribbean's perennial plea to the cruise lines is for more year-round ships.
'Alaska and Europe do very well in the summertime and it's very difficult to get those per diems in the Caribbean,' said Jennifer Marmanillo, director, itinerary planning, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. Right now, with the number of ships her company operates, 'it's very difficult to justify a Caribbean ship in the summer.'
When it comes to SeaDream, there may be some shoulder-season opportunity.
In late October and November, the brand makes more money at 75% occupancy in the Mediterranean that at 100% occupancy in the Caribbean. However, sometimes there are late-season weather issues in the Med — it's been 'atrocious' this year, Freeman said.
SeaDream aims to 'satisfy guests, profitably' so, in thinking about the 'satisfying guests' element of the equation, maybe it's worth giving up a bit of profit to ensure travelers have a good experience and return to the brand.
SeaDream traditionally redeploys to the Caribbean in late November. 'Maybe we [could consider coming] in the beginning of November or late October,' Freeman said.
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