14 Αυγούστου 2007

Cruise Liners Marketing and Port relations

As a reply on your resent article about the tendering operations at the Port of Argostoli, I take the opportunity to write you and give you a small example and idea of how and what a cruise line is looking after from a port of call. What is the thinking behind it and how the passengers are affecting this choice. What we can do as a port in order to facilitate and finally attract all this wealth that is coming with these ships.
As my origin is from Kefalonia and happens to be a Senior Manager of a major Cruise Line, please take my considerations and thoughts, not lightly but evaluate them and consider of what has to be done in order to move ahead towards success.

Destination makes the cruise!!!!!!

When a passenger makes the decision to go on this kind of holiday, there are many factors to consider, such as food, quality of service and comfort. While these are certainly important to passengers, the main driver for choosing to cruise is the appeal of the places they will visit.
Cruise operators face intense pressure to choose the right destinations for their target markets, while differentiating themselves from their competitors. The process is complicated, involving the management of numerous relationships with ports, constant evaluation of and the intelligent interpretation of passengers’ preferences.
Changing passenger requirements in terms of destinations, the ongoing development of new ports and the growing pressure on cruise lines to set themselves apart from the competition means that itinerary planning – to add variety and innovation to routes and the choice of destinations year after year – is an endless process.
Various Ports in Europe have approached cruise lines to appeal for business.
The more options we have in terms of destinations, the more flexibility we have in our product offering.
For Cruise Line, adding new destinations is a fundamental part of its market offering, so exploring new opportunities and relationships is a big part of the job

GROWING OPPORTUNITIES

Stakeholders in both new and established destinations are increasingly adopting this kind of proactive approach more often. Ports in Europe have approached cruise lines to appeal for business, and in some cases the providers of shore side entertainments and excursions have gone directly to cruise operators.
The results of these relationships, driven by the ports and shore side operators, are tangible. In Europe, for example, the stakeholders at a number of UK destinations approached some cruise lines, and consequently the line now calls at ports new to its itineraries such as Holyhead in Wales as well as Edinburgh and Inverness in Scotland.
These destinations have the right ingredients in terms of culture, entertainment opportunities and port facilities.
There are many established destinations, such as St Petersburg, which are essential for routes in the region. Alongside these, however, are visits to places such as Tallinn or Riga, which are much less well known, but which often provide something new for passengers.
“The competition between ports vying for position on itineraries…puts pressure on ports to raise the standards of their facilities and services.”

Finding new destinations may seem easy, given the many ports are directly approaching the cruise lines to attract new business. However, the apparent wealth of new opportunities places a burden on the processes and procedures used to evaluate and investigate each port.
Most new ports that have the infrastructure for cruise ships come to present their facilities and what the destination has to offer, talk to local agents and port authorities, and look at the logistics point of view, as well as the potential for experiences and excursions of that guests might enjoy.
The competition between ports vying for position on itineraries not only provides cruise lines with a broader choice, but also puts pressure on ports to raise the standards of their facilities and services. There are many examples of this to be found in Europe, where the volume of cruise business and the number of ports receiving visits are growing all the time.
For many, the main issue to address has been the quality of port facilities for cruise ships, but significant, long-term investments have been made at many established destinations, including Stockholm, Barcelona and St Petersburg, while emerging destinations have also

TIPPING THE BALANCE

Building a terminal, however, is not enough to tilt the scales in favor of a port as it strives to become a cruise destination. Cruise lines must consider many sources of information before making selecting their destinations.
One of the most important sources of data underpinning this choice is the direct feedback from passengers. While relatively few guests fill in free text comments on their cruise-evaluation forms, those who do so provide useful information on the quality of a destination and its port. Analyzing this feedback is a key task.
Reviewing of all the comment cards from guests, talking to sales departments and travel agents to find out what the trade thinks we should be offering. Doing high-level consumer research, which looks at the ranking of ports and the wishes of guests in terms of where they would like to go, validates their product.
In deciding which ports to choose, itinerary planners must balance the appeal of the destination against the quality of port facilities and the willingness of port stakeholders to engage in a positive relationship with their cruise customers. Many developing ports rely on the willingness of local businesses to invest in shore side entertainment facilities and excursions, but often it seems local communities support such developments. This suggests that over time there has been more communication and cooperation between ports and cruise lines.
At one time cruise lines were eager to listen to the needs of ports to satisfy their criteria. Now, it seems, ports are keen to hear what cruise lines want from them to ensure that valuable cruise business comes their way. This shift means that ports also have to become better at managing long-term relationships with cruise operators.

WIN-WIN RELATIONSHIPS

Such is the importance of reliable, long-term relationships with ports that many Cruise lines have in the past withdrawn business from ports that have not placed sufficient emphasis on communication and collaboration. Though such instances are rare, they stand out more in an environment where competition between ports is more intense and there is greater willingness to work closely with cruise lines.
Cruise lines often share programmes with small ports that look at the investment that is needed to make a town attractive to cruise guests, which might include walking tours or improved signage.
For cruise lines planning itineraries two years ahead, being told that a reservation cannot be fulfilled is a catastrophe, given that it will have made sales based on those reservations and, therefore, risks damage to its brand by failing to keep its promise to its passengers. So, for ports, reliability is key, and with so many ports fighting for the same cruise business, it will become a defining factor in whether a port makes it onto an itinerary.

CONGESTION ISSUES

Looking further ahead, the problem of overcrowding at some ports may become more of a problem. Already there are parts of the Mediterranean that suffer from congestion, which has led Cruise liners to start using smaller ports such us Argostoli.As traffic increases, this could become an issue more ports have to address. If it does, there would be even more emphasis placed on careful and considerate scheduling.
If cruise lines and ports continue down the road towards closer collaboration and even partnership, such issues will be central to their discussions. Ultimately, cruise operators will still have to balance the many different elements of value that impact on passenger experience, profitability and business relationships.

Capt. Ilias Stefanatos Msc
Celebrity Cruises Inc.

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