It’s nice when suppliers talk about how important travel advisors are and how the future looks bright for the trade — but you always have to wonder if there’s a little rah-rah thrown in there meant to simply inspire the troops. So today’s comments from two former cruise execs at CruiseWorld who no longer have any skin in the game really were a meaningful testament to the resilience of the travel industry and the advisors who sell it.
Former Celebrity Cruises president and CEO Dan Hanrahan, now chairman of the board at amusement park operator Cedar Fair Entertainment, noted that at a Zoom meeting in the midst of the pandemic he told his board, “I wish we had some intermediator between us and our customers; I wish we had travel agents.”
Bullish on travel agents
As customers became concerned about Covid and “people became skeptical, I said travel agents would be the icing on the cake to our technology, because people want to talk to someone; they want to hear from a human being that it’s safe,” Hanrahan said. “Travel advisors need good technology, because that’s what the customer looks for first. But I’m bullish on the travel advisor’s part in the industry.”
“You do have a different perspective from the outside,” agreed Andy Stuart, who ironically retired from the position of president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line just before the pandemic hit so he could travel more.
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While there’s been a lot of noise about direct business taking market share from advisors, Stuart said he thinks it’s just a short-term blip. More important is the fact that some customers have been frightened and dropped out of the cruise market, and there is an “enormous need for this industry to go out and drive demand.”
Given the “slightly smaller demand pool than pre-pandemic, travel advisors are more important than ever. I think travel suppliers will look to you more than ever to bring customers back and find new ones. And you have to be more effective than ever, going out and being an army driving demand.”
Indeed, Stuart said, he is amazed at the resilience of the industry and the travel advisors who sell it.
“I think about what the industry has been able to do, the confidence of the financial markets who put untold amounts of capital into the industry, the way the cruise lines have handled an unimaginable crisis. And we’re hearing this week this tremendous optimism. And on the distribution side, all of you could have rolled up in a ball and gotten out. But no, you are sitting here thinking about how to thrive. Just look at this room; it’s packed.”
Hanrahan noted that he believes the evidence from the amusement park sector holds for cruising, as well. “We had to borrow more money than we could ever have imagined to keep the business alive,” but Q3 was a record quarter. “The consumer really wants to come back. From the outside looking in, I feel really confident about where the cruise business is headed; hang in there.”
Stuart attributes the growing cruise comeback to the lines’ “uncompromising stand on health and safety when it would have been tempting to try to rush back. There’s been a lot of work and a lot of patience and a lot of scientific expertise, and that’s why the industry will roar back rather than having these hiccups. I’m proud of the industry for being so uncompromising.”
Before the pandemic, “when we had a technical issue and a ship would go out for a week it was a crisis, the whole team would be in the boardroom.
“And here it was all shut down for two fricking years, and it’s coming back,” he said.
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