Tuesday, April 24, 2012

New Regulations Limit Guest Access to the Bridge and Waste Money Without Actually Increasing Safety

In the wake of the Costa Concordia accident, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) and the European Cruise Council have announced three new regulations.  As those that know me well are aware, I am all for regulations that make sense...and I have no tolerance for those that don't.

Before getting into the specifics involved here, I want to relay what happened on a Global Superyachts Forum panel I was on with regulators from American Bureau of Shipping, Lloyds Register of Shipping, the British Maritime and Coast Guard Authority and a few others.  (I was the only lawyer.)  It was announced that new regulations on the type of glass that could be used on superyachts were being developed.  I asked what I thought was a simple question:  Why

I was told (chastised is more like it) that "lives were at stake".  To which I responded:  OK, what is the morbidity (lives lost or people injured) as a result of failed glass on superyachts?  I knew the answer:  ZERO.  Well, that (I?) created a firestorm...because the regulators were so focused on regulating they were not prepared for my final area of inquiry:  Can anyone tell me what the cost-benefit is of these new regulations?  I mean how many more people are going to be saved - since none have been lost or injured - with the millions of dollars now to be spent on new glass?  Isn't there a better place that money can be spent...or not spent? 

That said here are the three new regulations affecting cruise ships and, let me give you a hint on my position:  Those regulations are, to my mind, bureaucratic garbage and a waste of money and valuable manpower.
  • Passage Planning: While the International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations have been followed, now not only do Best Practices have to be created/implimented, all bridge team members must be included in a Bridge Briefing well in advance of sailing.
    • In other words, no sleeping or time off when there are no instances of there being a lack of a Bridge Briefing attended by every member being the cause of (or could have prevented) an accident.  All of the information as far as course, speed, etc. is documented so that any bridge member can identify it immediately on the electronic charts and other navigational aids...complete with alarms if not followed.  The problem may be a lack of willingness to countermand a superior at the time the course is improperly changed; not before the ship sails.
  • Personnel Access To The Bridge: The new policy is that bridge access is to be limited to those with operational functions during any period of restricted manueuvring or when increased vigilance is required.
    • This is essentially, "Schettino, you have spoiled it for everyone."  While it will, no doubt, be disappointing not to be on the bridge during a sailaway, the fact of the matter is that I am, again, unaware of anytime having guests on the bridge have been a factor in such an accident.  While of the three new regulations this has the most logic, I must point out that our not-so-beloved-Schettino's bonehead actions occurred neither during a time of restricted maneuvering nor when increased vigilance would have been apparent to that idiot.  In short, it is a regulation that more easily can be used to say "Gottcha!" if something happens, but it does nothing to prevent an irresponsible captain from believing that cruising at 15 knots within a couple hundred yards of a rocky coastline requires "increased vigilance".
  •  Lifejackets: Cruise lines always carry more than enough life jackets, but now they will be required to carry additional life jackets equal to the largest number of people that are berthed (sleep) in a vertical fire zone (from bilge to top deck) of a ship. 
    • While I do not know where these life jackets are to be kept - most certainly not in that zone one would think - I am wondering why such a huge additional number of life jackets and, to that end, just how many lives would be saved if there was a need for all of them on a modern cruise ship.  To me it nothing more than a way that the cruise lines can say, "See we have more than enough...way more than enough"...and nothing more.  No real increase in safety will occur.
By now you must be asking, "Why is Iamboatman on such a rant about what seems to be erring on the side of safety?"  The reason is that
  • Implementing psychological testing of officers on ships carrying more than X passengers
  • Requiring countermanding of the officer in charge when his instructions or actions violate the approved course, speed, etc...and fully protecting those that do it
  • Putting safeties in place that require significant effort to override course settings absent a declared emergency
and similar would go much further in practically addressing safety concerns. 

And I must ask, with frustration:  Why aren't those things being done?  Because to the same potential passengers that are worried about cruising today because of that Schettino dude so much so that sales have dropped will not be comforted by addressing things in a way that they cannot fully understand. 

People understand life jackets (regardless of them only being used when something happens...rather than preventing something happening). 

People understand the Bridge being without distraction (but are unaware of such common things as a pilot wanting more coffee and some of those cookies you had last time or shouting to the other pilot in a foreign language). 

People understand everyone should know where the ship is going and who is in charge (but don't have a clue how that information is passed, acknowledged and understood).

On a cruise this past week the ship was delayed because two guests didn't appear at the muster.  Everyone waited.  The ship was searched.  Over 30 minutes of sitting there went by.  So when they finally gave up and went ahead with the muster how many of those frustrated, angry, guests really listened and understood what was being said...as opposed to focusing on who were "those" people, now the sailaway before dinner is ruined, etc. (or just not being focused because they are justifiably angry).

To my mind it would have made more sense to go ahead with the muster after a 10 minute wait and then put the offending guests off the ship when they were located if they had no legitimate excuse.  There would have been an increase in safety rather than an increase in the show.

In closing, remember:  Cruising is one of the safest forms of travel.  Don't let the hype get to you...either way.

2012 Seabourn World Cruise Comes to a Beautiful End

Yesterday the Seabourn Quest arrived in Venice, Italy bringing her maiden World Cruise sojourn to a very successful end.

Courtesy of Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen

At the start of the World Cruise I wrote an article, Seabourn Quest 2012 World Cruise - Behind The Scenes and now we have come (virtually) full circle.

Shortly thereafter I wrote an article about the Seabourn Quest's master, Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen, Seabourn Quest's 2012 World Cruise Captain Geir-Arne Thue-Nilsen: A Captain's Captain...And A Really Nice Person!  and, to be sure, we have kept in touch throughout the cruise. 

The map above is Captain GA's plotting of the world cruise...every single day of it.
But along the way not only did I write some more articles such as: 2012 Seabourn Quest World Cruise - Having Some Fun! Captain GA, a fantastic photographer, put together some incredible, some beautiful and some just fun photographs of his 109 day odyssey.  While there are quite a few that he privately shared with me, please check out Captain Geir-Arne's Photo Gallery for hundreds of great photographs of the ports, the guests and, most importantly, the Seabourn staff and crew.  (Family and friends regularly visit this website to catch glimpses of their loved ones.  It is pretty special.)

So with the 2012 World Cruise complete, now is the perfect time to start thinking about the 2013 World Cruise on the Seabourn Quest.

Remember, Goldring Travel provides you with the best service, excellent pricing, many added amenities including Ensemble Shore Experiences throughout the cruise (in addition to the Seabourn World Cruise Events) and, of course, insight that is not available anywhere else. 

If you have an interest in the 2013 World Cruise, please call on (877) 2GO-LUXURY or one of my international numbers or, of course, you can email me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises: New "No Discount" Policies Are Coming!

Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises (you know the separate cruise lines that are really becoming one cruise line) are implementing a rather draconian (heavy-handed) solution to the problem of extreme discounting.

First, what is this about?  There is a real problem in the cruise industry where certain travel agencies are so discounting the price of cruises that there not only is a problem with price integrity, but the related loss of service quality.  You know the situation:  You booked an incredible price on a cruise using some online booking engine and then you have real problems because you cannot get a live person…or, possibly worse, you get a person who doesn’t know what they are talking about. 

So while you got what you paid for (sort of), the cruise lines wind up with associated problems and the high quality travel agencies screaming about the cruise lines effectively endorsing the problematic actions that not only undercut the industry, but give the good travel agents a bad reputation.

Related to that, some folks have undertaken the practice of avoiding that problem by using a high quality travel agent to do all the hard work and then shopping the price with an eye towards transferring the booking to one of those cut-rate travel agencies.  While reputable travel agents don’t poach other agency’s bookings, there are those out there that do…and ultimately the passenger, good travel agency and the cruise line all suffer.

For me, there are some better solutions; like addressing the troublesome agencies rather than essentially “throwing the baby out with the bath water”. 

But it is what it is, so let’s down to the specifics:  Effective May 1, 2012:

            1.  Oceania and Regent will not allow any travel agency to discount their cruises.  You will have to pay the full, published, fare.  So the only price reduction you will receive is if Regent or Oceania is running a sale.  This is similar to what Silversea, Crystal and Azamara Club already have as their policies.

            2.  You will be able to receive amenities (onboard credits, upgrades, etc.) worth up to five (5%) percent of the cruise fare.

            3.  The up to 5% in added value is in addition to any group or Ensemble Travel Group (or other consortium) benefits that may be available.

As to the transferring of bookings to a travel agency there are some new rules you are going to have to be careful of:

            1.  If you book with one travel agency and decide to transfer the booking to another travel agency (or cancel and rebook with another agency) more than thirty (30) days from the Date of the Reservation (NOT the Deposit Date) the receiving travel agency will not receive a commission.  This is clearly designed to stop the shopping of pricing from one agency to another.  It is not relevant if the first agency is driving you nuts, made errors or insulted your dog.

            2.  You need to understand that if you transfer your booking from one travel agency to another travel agency within 30 days of the Reservation Date the new travel agency will probably be receiving a reduced commission, so that 5% added value discussed above may not be quick to be received.    In short, find a good travel agency (like Goldring Travel) and stick with it.

            3.  If you book your cruise directly with Oceania or Regent you can still transfer that booking to your favored travel agency (Goldring Travel, of course!) and the agency will receive its full commission…if it is transferred within 30 days of the Reservation Date.

I don’t mind saying that the last bit is very disturbing.  I cannot fathom a legitimate reason for Regent Seven Seas or Oceania Cruises to limit a client’s ability to transfer a booking to a travel agency if it finds that the service levels provided by the cruise line is not what they need or if they expand their cruise vacation into a multi-dimensional experience (air, hotels, shore excursions, etc.).  Does that seem to be a way not only for Regent and Oceania to keep the commission on the cruise, but “persuade” you use its (their) hotels, air and shore excursions?

There are a few other aspects of the new policies that are “inside” issues and not appropriate to discuss here.  But what I can say is that I am none-to-pleased with some of those aspects as well.

So, in summary:  You are best to start looking for a great travel advisor rather than a cut-rate online booking engine.  In the end, while imperfect, with the new policies you will get the best service and some of the added values out there.  Goldring Travel fits that description perfectly.

Seabourn on Cruise Critic - A New Low In Poster Perspectives...And Conduct.

Cruise Critic Posters:
Don't be so quick to blame Holland America for changes at Seabourn...Blame yourselves.

Over the past few weeks I have received emails and Facebook messages asking me if I had read the recent threads from various posters including, but not limited to, SeabournTraveller and Card Check.  I must say that I am no longer frustrated, but truly disgusted by what I am reading.

Why?  Not only because of the content (actually lack thereof), but the pompous and infantile (yes, at the same time) posts and games being played to run up the views (accomplished by doing simple things like repeatedly reloading a page); thus creating a faux level of interest and, I guess, "needed" status.  (You will see what I mean in a moment.)

The people that are writing these posts are not your normal Seabourn passenger/guest.  These people are not guests, they are pains in the ass that have a huge over-abundance of pretentiousness designed to mask their lack of class, sophistication and experience.  (As my daughter would say, "Dad:  A little harsh...Just a tiny bit.")

Today was the final straw.  This SeabournTraveller person...who purchased the absolute lowest possible category for the cruise (an A Guarantee) and boasts of her time planted at the Sky Bar sucking down mojitos while spending very little time actually exploring the ports or engaging in new adventures...was fishing around onboard for a possible upgrade...presumably because of the great service ST thinks she is providing by posting every blessed menu and daily activity.  When Seabourn wouldn't give her a complimentary eight (8) category upgrade to a V6 she wrote:

We also got a call from the Guest Services Manager that a V6 CAT has become available and you don't even want to know what they wanted to charge us even though we were booked on a GTY CAT A which was the last cabin. As I explained to him we have sailed a 100 days with Seabourn and booked this and another 42 days on the Odyssey at the end of the year and if that isn't enough of a spend for Seabourn then I should perhaps take our business elsewhere as I don't appreciate being "nickled and dimed". He said he would speak with the Hotel Manager again about it and I said "Not to Bother" I will escalate this matter to John Delaney's Office as I already had an email into him.

So somehow this pretentious ass believes that the drivel she writes is worth denigrating the value and hard-earned money of virtually every other guest on the ship who paid more than she did.  And, of course, let's face it: She makes no bones about making special requests of the crew for just about anything she can...because she does nothing other than post on Cruise Critic.

BTW, I know that ST is hard at work to vest in her free week (earned when you sail 140 days on Seabourn...read her math above) and she is going to scream when she is given a credit for a Category A suite value when that day comes because that is the category she most sailed in.  And, she isn't taking her business anywhere...because of that Seabourn-provided free cruise.

But this is not about SeabournTraveller.  It is about the garbage that is now being written on Cruise Critic not only by her but by the couple of dozen of others that post there.  (Yes, once in a while there is something relevant posted by the last remaining few posters that seem to have living brain cells.)

Some of the comments from Card Check have been mind boggling as well.  She didn't like the Owner's Suite because the she couldn't figure out how to open the refrigerator door with the bar door open, the sofa was apparently uncomfortable and she didn't like the coffee table. She was moved and given a large refund (You can see  all the money Seabourn is NOT making on the two of these Cruise Critic posters!  An Owner' Suite now remains empty and there is a demand for a complimentary 8 category upgrade.)

Skipping (almost) Card Check's comments about such riveting things as how the mini-van was air-conditioned, but the Seabourn event in Oman was hot (no kidding) so she left after 15 minutes, I came to this one:

We decided to take a cab to the Hilton, so we ordered box "lunches" of baguettes, cheese, salami and fruit. The bartender made us 2 large bottles of melon colada and strawberry margaritas, and a stack of cups. We haggled with the cab drivers and finally got them down to $20.00 for 4 of us. It was about 15 minutes to the Hilton-it was in the middle of barren waste land. But for $14.00, they let you use the beautiful pool (with a slide) and they provided unlimited ice for our drinks.

So I am supposed to rely upon someone who is so cheap...yes, a downright cheapskate...that she not only wouldn't pay for lunch off the ship, but needed to impose upon the staff to provide her with free drinks (with cups no less) and then beat down a taxi driver for a fare...which she split with another couple...only to proudly spout off about how she paid $14 to use a hotel pool with - yes folks - free ice!  (Yes, from the same pain-in-the-ass that booked the Owner's Suite, then came up with some absurd reason to leave Seabourn holding the bag and her getting a large refund.)

It is so unfortunate that this sort of thing goes on.  But is is more unfortunate that Cruise Critic is manipulated from the Community Manager to Host Dan to the posters and it is done under the guise of being a source of great information about cruises. 

Cruise Critic now, clearly, is as far as Seabourn goes, nothing better than a place to prostitute Cruise Critic's notoriety in a way that denigrates the cruise line, the information about the cruise line and the cruise experience of anyone unfortunate enough to cross paths with these sociopathic individuals.

As a final thought:  I have been quite critical of some of the things John Delaney has put into place; not necessarily because they are in place, but how they were put there.  But between SeabournTraveller and Card Check you can see how people like that require - yes, require - John Delaney to take actions that if they had not been abused probably never would have been taken.

So a big Thank You to SeabournTraveller, Card Check and a few others for not allowing Seabourn to do things the way it used to....because you are so abusive. 

So Cruise Critic posters:  Don't be so quick to blame Holland America...Blame yourselves.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Cruise Lines: Learn from the US Post Office How Not To Do Business. So, Where is "The Love"?

About three months ago I moved my office from Red Bank, New Jersey to Colts Neck, New Jersey...which is about 15 minutes away.  The move, overall, went pretty smoothly, but I have one nagging problem:  The United States Post Office.

You see, when I send out Pre-Cruise Documents (for those lines that still have them) I enclose them with a small gift along with a cover letter.  When I moved my office to Colts Neck those packages started costing me just a little bit more...as I found out when they were being returned to my office for a few pennies more postage.  And then I found that certain Cruise Document packages - always sent with a larger gift - were also being returned for just a little bit more postage....and I am talking something like 20 cents on a $26.00 overseas package.  This never happened when my office was in Red Bank, so something had to be amiss.

The other day I had it.  I sent out four identical Pre-Cruise Document packages and two were returned for 47 cents additional postage...and I was totally baffled how this could be.  So I called to speak with the Post Office Supervisor.  I was told he just went to lunch (at 1:45 p.m...just after I received my mail).  So I called back in an hour and received the same story.  So I called back again after another hour and, for a third time, received the same story.  Frustrated I asked for him to call me. He never did.

This morning I went to the post office to speak directly with him.  He was - not surprisingly - on the telephone.  I said I would wait...and I did.  (Sound anything like what you go through when you call a cruise line reservations department?)

When we finally spoke the excuse given was first that the Main Post Office Processing Center is cracking down, but when I reminded him that Red Bank and Colts Neck use the same Processing Center the truth came out:  The postal clerks were concerned about getting in trouble for accepting under- paid postage and were being hyper-critical in order to protect their jobs. So essentially a package that could be weighed or categorized one way was regularly being accessed using the more expensive method.  The clerks could justify their actions, their jobs would be safe and it was only a few pennies more in postage, so the businesses wouldn't complain.

Well, that was the theory.  Those short-sighted clerks didn't realize that the additional time being spent by the businesses, the delays in having the mailings delivered, the ill-will be created with its customers, etc. all added up to less...not more...overall business for the profit-starved Post Office.  Oh, and the supervisor, only responded with a promise to work with me after I said I would write a letter advising the proper authorities of what I saw as a bad practice...at best.

So what does this have to do with the cruise lines?  Everything! 

I don't care if it is an offer of a $99 upgrade rather than making it complimentary, a change in how guarantee suites are handled, increases in non-commissionable fares, more restrictive pricing models, restrictions on turning bookings over to travel advisors, or having reservation agents following "scripts" so that they listen for key words (rather than engage in issue resolution/problem solving) designed to push passengers into a more profitable (for the cruise line) solution, etc. it is all so very shortsighted.

If the cruise lines want to increase profits, increase "The Love". It is pretty simple, when you take the time and care to present the customer with a caring approach, the extra postage...'err more restrictive pricing model, becomes less of an issue - if it is even recognized as one. 

And if the prospective cruise passenger feels "The Love",  that imperfect itinerary, the slightly off timing, the pricing being just a bit more than desired all become less of an issue.

At Goldring Travel we work to have our clients feel "The Love".  We deal with the cruise lines, make sure you aren't paying that extra postage and allow you to feel the excitement of your upcoming cruise or land vacation...rather than having it soured by a postal clerk/reservations agent that is put into a position of seeking to increase the business's revenue or suffer the consequences. 

Goldring Travel wants your business for life...not just the short term.

And you want to deal directly with the cruise lines because why?  Tell me it isn't because you love the U.S. Postal Service!

Monday, April 9, 2012

New Study - Want To Be Dissatisfied? Book Directly With a Cruise Line!

Recently the IBM Institute for Business Value did a study of travelers and if they believed they were getting value for their travel dollar.  There is a lot of very interesting data in that study worth considering, both as a travel advisor and as a travel consumer.  (There are two parts to this article, so please be sure to read this whole article as they discuss different aspects.)

It is my hope that in considering these points you just may have a clearer perspective on why using - I don't know, say - Goldring Travel is both a good idea economically and for your overall happiness.

Types of Travelers

First, let's get the most difficult group out of the way.  Oh, you think it is the luxury traveler who has many desires and wants a personalized experience?  WRONG.  They are, as you will see, the best type of traveler!

The most difficult traveler is what I call the crazed bargain hunter.  That is not the person who seeks out a great deal;  I mean I do that!  I am talking about the traveler IBM refers to as the "Perpetual Searchers".  These folks spend so much time struggling to find the lowest price that they lose focus on the travel experience and actually push themselves towards the largest online travel agencies which have the lowest levels of customer service.

I have a bit of advice for Perpetual SearchersStop shooting yourself in the foot!  Every person wants value for money, but when your demand for the absolute lowest price overwhelms the travel experience you actually get less for your money (less amenities, less advice, less hassle-avoidance, less good will, less fun, etc.) because as much as you want a great deal, the supplier (travel agency or cruise line) is working on such small profit margins it cannot afford to give you more than a moment's notice...if you get past the computer servicing your booking. 

In contrast, the group identified as "Occasional Luxurists" (those that take short and frequent getaways) were found to be far more likely to feel they got their money's worth.  Why?  To me, a luxury travel advisor, the reason is obvious:  They are more focused the overall experience.  They, too, want value for money, but are not solely focused on the bottom line.  They are willing to pay for upgrades and added amenities.  And with those things comes a higher level of service and, therefore, less hassles, more good will and, importantly, more overall pleasure.

But they are not the most satisfied of all travelers because their travel strategy doesn't really allow for them to exploit some of the best travel bargains out there.  Hence, the Occasional Luxurist tends to pay more per day of travel than most.

There are three other types of travelers identified in the study:  Happily Infrequents (those that travel less because they view travel as a hassle - hardly travelers!), Carpe Deists (those willing to seize the opportunity to travel with few advanced plans) and those that fit right into Goldring Travel's way of doing businessCautious Calculators (those that make their decisions carefully because travel is highly valued).

Below is a chart that I believe speaks a thousand words:  Cautious Calculators - those who carefully make their decisions, but whose decisions are not driven solely by getting the lowest price (Perpetual Searchers), not only believe that getting value for money is extremely important, but are over six (6) times more likely to believe that "Money well spent on travel is money well spent"! 

So I pause and ask, If the Perpetual Searcher doesn't believe that spending money on travel is spending money well (only 13% do), the why are they traveling in the first place?  I will tell you why:  Because they are confused.  They bought into the argument (and an excellent one by the way) that cruising is a fantastic travel bargain...and then forgot about the word/concept "travel" and only consider "bargain".  Finding people to share taxis/tours, three shrimp cocktails/two steaks for dinner, stock-piling shampoo and then complaining so they can get something "comp'ed" is what it all about. There are online travel agencies willing to deal with you...and then those complain that the cruise lines are taking away there marginal profits (all that the PS will allow) through direct bookings.  Result:  No one is happy. 

Now, put those Perpetual Searchers on a luxury cruise with the Cautious Calculators and you have a conflict.  Those highly loyal true luxury cruisers wind up having their experience degraded by the Perpetual Searchers who tax both the cruise staff and ship facilities resulting in a lower overall satisfaction for those who seek a luxury cruise experience.  Result:  Loss of Luxury and a Loss of Loyalty.

Something has to change.

Service and Marketing
Why Focus on the Perpetual Searcher
When the Cautious Calculator Is Where
the Long Term Benefit Lies?

Over the past weeks you have been reading about my total dissatisfaction with the cruise lines marketing efforts (especially Seabourn).  Well, it seems, I am not the only one who thinks so.  According to the IBM study, "Too many travel providers view marketing as a mechanism to boost short-term sales and too few see them as longer-term strategic investments that can consistently reinforce the differences among available products and services".  It is not surprising that only days ago, on March 30, 2012, I wrote on this very subjectSelling Luxury Cruises and How to Degrade a Market...and Market Share and then was told by a cruise line executive that I didn't know what I was talking about as they knew how they had to market in this difficult economy.  (I won't beat my head against that wall any more because if IBM tells me they don't get it then I know that it ain't just me!)

But now the kickerThe more the cruise lines implement direct bookings, the better it is for Goldring Travel.  In January 2012 I wrote two articles I think are worth reading (I guess I wouldn't have written them otherwise, huh?):  Your Order Room Service With Your Telephone, So Why Not Your Vacation? and Booking Your Cruise or Vacation Online? Think Again!

The fact is that online (faceless, voiceless, personless) bookings have increased significantly.  The more comfortable people are with the internet the more popular this sort of travel booking has become...and the more impersonalized the travel experience.  Hence, according to the IBM study, while people enjoy doing their own research, they engage in over ten times (10x) the number of webpage views and have an increasing frustration with not being able to obtain all the information they actually want...and need.

An example:  I was contacted by three older women now wanting to travel in June to two cities with a cruise in between.  They need a triple suite on a luxury cruise line and triple hotel rooms with single beds in each city.  Good luck finding that on a luxury cruise direct booking website or Hotels.com!  Is it possible?  I guess so.  Is it worth all the extra effort to possibly save a few dollars or, to be fully realistic, to pay a higher cruise fare or have amenities omitted?  I know it is not.

But there is more to that example than meets the eye!  Those three women came to me frustrated with finding a single hotel and not really knowing what they wanted to do when they got there.  I was able to work with them, discuss options and then find that there was a far better vacation option that really got them excited.  If they had booked online they would have gotten a few hotel rooms, more hassles and, to be sure, a totally different and less enriching travel experience with less amenities and probably a higher price.

So what does this have to do with Marketing?  The cruise lines were so focused on prices for close in cruises, they failed to market TRAVEL to those actually looking for a close in experience!  They missed the very travelers they are seeking to acquire.  The cruise lines are curiously marketing to the Perpetual Searcher rather than the Cautious Calculators...and that may have a short term result, but a long term loss!

As a final thought, I want you to consider what happens when things go wrong...and it is not a perfect world.  If you book online or you book at the lowest possible price who is going to be their for you when you have a pre-cruise, during your cruise or post-cruise problem?  Not a computer.  Not a cruise line booking engine.  Not a cruise line reservations agent who is trained to work off of "scripts" so that everyone who calls in receives the same message and the same response...as if everyone is identical (or is that "faceless").

So the next time you say, "I'll get a better price booking directly with the cruise line or with an online agency" you need to think about more than the "price"...and even if it is, what is the price you are going to pay going it alone.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hold On To Your Hat! Seabourn Service (and Goldring Travel) Deliver = Loyalty

On Monday at 10:56 a.m. I received an email from a client that had just concluded a 12 day cruise on the Seabourn Odyssey.  I loved reading that the cruise was "superb" and they had "thoroughly enjoyed" themselves.  But...and isn't there always:  They had left a brand new expensive hat in their suite and wondered if Portia, their stewardess, found it and if Seabourn could possibly find a way to have it returned to them.

I pause!  This distressed guest referred to "Portia"; not "our stewardess".  A personal relationship had formed.  Portia was not merely someone who tended to their suite.  She was more than that and, to be sure, the clients felt comfortable in acknowledging her and her importance.  You should think back on your cruises, or what you would like in a cruise, and reflect on how "making it personal" adds just that little bit extra to your experience. 

OK, now back to the story.

As Lisbon is five hours ahead of New York, I received the request at 3:56 p.m. Lisbon time and the Seabourn Odyssey sails in an hour!  I immediately emailed the Guest Services Manager on the ship with my client's hotel information and figure that while I am sure the hat can be located, it will be shipped back to their home.  I was wrong.

Andrea, the GSM, found the hat, gave the it and the guest's hotel information to the port agent and when my client returned to their hotel room after dinner I received the following email:


We have just got back from dinner out in Lisbon and, as you say, mon chapeau-c'est ici maintenant! 

I am speechless.

Put me on the list of Seabourn/Goldring lifetime supporters. And I mean it.

So many thanks indeed  

This is how teamwork between the extraordinary Seabourn staff and Goldring Travel - both of whom believe in treating their guests/clients as they wish to be treated - created not only an experience that will be talked about, but loyalty...and just an overall good feeling.

So when you are swayed by "fire sale" pricing or switch travel agents because of an additional discount, remember that you will never remember that "great deal" if the travel advisor you use or the cruise line you decide on because of the price let's moments like this slip by. 

Speechless because you are so impressed. 
Speechless because you are so frustrated you can't talk.

Res ipsa loquitor.

A Note to the Luxury Cruise Lines: Do you just want to fill a ship today or do you want earn passenger loyalty for years to come? 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Azamara Quest Fire: How To Gain In Reputation & Good Will When Faced With a Publicity Nightmare

Over the past months I have been on a bit of a roll complaining about how cruise lines, even luxury lines, have treated its passengers (who used to be treated as "guests") looking at their immediate bottom line rather than the long term one.

Royal Caribbean brands seem to consistently step up and do the right thing...and it pays off not only with the effected passengers, but the cruising public and, importantly, travel agents.  I wrote about a less drastic event in October 2010 involving the Celebrity Century (Ship Happens) noting Celebrity Cruises (a Royal Caribbean brand) was taking better care of its passengers than Regent Seven Seas was when the Regent Voyager became disabled.

Earlier this year, Seabourn cancelled one of its summer Mediterreanean cruises...one that many guests had as a part of a longer cruise...and rather than, as in the past, offering them a complimentary cruise offered their passengers (formerly known as "guests") a modest discount on a future cruise. And, by the way, I do not recall Seabourn ever having previously cancelled a peak season cruise for a charter because long term loyalty is just too dear.  (You know I didn't keep my mouth shut on that one!)

OK, with that preface...

As you may know, the Azamara Quest had a fire in its engine room this past week resulting in a fire that, although extinguished within an hour, disabled the ship temporarily (and, while no passengers were injured, there were a few crew members hurt, one seriously).

The ship eventually had one generator started (providing running water, lights and circulating air, among other services) and then one engine was able to be started allowing the ship to motor, slowly, to Sandakan, Malaysia where she now is undergoing assessment and repairs.

So what has Azamara Club Cruises done for its "guests" (no, they have not been treated as mere "passengers"!):
  • Since the cruise was to end in Singapore on April 12, 2012, they were given the immediate option of either temporarily staying onboard until Tuesday or moving to a hotel at Azamara's expense.
  • Each guest is being given $150 to cover onshore incidentals and meals
  • On Tuesday (today) Azamara is providing a charter flight to Singapore
  • Once in Singapore the guests are being given the option of
    • staying in a luxury hotel in Singapore for as long as they wish, up until the scheduled end of the cruise (April 12th) at Azamara's expense or
    • taking the rest of their holiday somewhere else (airfare, hotel, etc. paid by Azamara)
    • A $150 per day stipend for meals and incidentals
  • The full cruise fare is being refunded
  • Up to $500 in airline change fees are being refunded
  • A Future Cruise Credit equal to the amount they paid for this cruise is also being provided.
The way I calculate it, there is about $5,000 in direct holiday value given to each guest, plus a refund of the cruise fare, pluse airline change fees plus a complimentary cruise, so call it about $10,000 per guest in total "value".  (That does not mean it will be that much in Azamara out-of-pocket expenses as they surely have negotiated rates with hotels and have insurance or reserves for these sorts of highly unusual events.)

But - and this is important - imagine the cost of the "black eye" if Azamara Club Cruises hadn't done right by its guests....not only with its passengers, but the cruising public and, to be sure, the top travel agents.

Oh, and by the way, Azamara Club has been excellent in keeping the public informed of what has been going on.  Posts on its website, posts on its Facebook page and, of course, direct contact with the media.  Open and as transparent as reasonably possible.

All of this, to my mind, creates confidence in a brand when intuitively one would think the opposite.

Now, think about this:

I have been proponent of Azamara Club Cruises because of its service levels, very interesting itineraries, fairly inclusive nature (included gratuities, soft drinks, water and coffees, wines with meals, etc.) and cuisine.  While it standard cabins are small, once you get to the suite level things are more than adequate for a near luxury experience.

But most have been pretty resistant to my suggestions of Azamara Club offerings.  One of my clients - who just booked another luxury cruise with Goldring Travel - recently recalled her Azamara Club cruise as "an amazing time".

With a cruise line that shows it values you as much as Azamara Club Cruises just has during this recent unfortunate episode, don't you think that you just might want to put in on your radar?  It has been on mine!

Trust me.  Have I ever steered you wrong?