Internet for Marketing and Sales of Cruise and Ferry Products in the Future
Conference speech presented at the Cruise + Ferry 97 Exhibition (London, 13-14-15 May 1997)
By John Broughan, Partner, Travel Technologies Group, USA (23/09/97)
Any discussion of the Internet as a viable commercial alternative to the traditional distribution network for the cruise and ferry industry inevitably begins with the healthy skepticism that lingers about its effective use in the near term.
The Internet is:
1) Too slow
2) Facing worldwide gridlock
3) Lacking of adequate security for the vendor or financial protection for the consumer
4) Unlikely adaptability for the present age group of most cruise customers who will continue to prefer speaking to a real person.
All of the above concerns are certainly valid today. However, one only has to read the comments of the CEO's of Microsoft, Intel, IBM and the other technical giants to realize that these impediments will be solved in the near future.
And, as the Internet evolves as yet another household necessity in this information ag'e, the commercial success of the Internet will soon be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In truth, when we consider the broader travel market, the Internet today is a reality and recent developments validate the fact that it will be a powerful commercial force in the very near future.
One only needs to considerer Microsoft's Expedia introduction.
Expedia is "The Empire's" Internet travel product to sell to the consumer air transportation, hotel and a car rental (our parent company is a partner in this project as the "behind the scenes" fulfillment center).
After four months of operations (with almost no advertising), Expedia realized its first million dollar sales week - making Microsoft, in four short months, larger than 98+% of all the travel agencies in the United States.
The evolution of the Internet is advancing faster than most prognosticators wildest imaginations.
Initially, the Internet was a limited, though effective tool for universally broadcasting a message.
Many users today continue to limit the use of the advancing enormus power of today's Internet by only using it as an advertising medium.
Othets have journeyed into Phase 2 - INTERACTIVE NARROWCASTING.
For suppliers, an opportunity to profile potential customers or open their database to a limited number, qualified distributors or customers. For the consumer, Phase 2 allows extensive search capability of almost unlimited products and topics.
Most recently, we find enhanced search engines utilizing artificial intelligence to actually search and select robotically a specific product or service for the end user, saving the consumer valuable time and money.
Now, we are on the verge of Phase 3 - TRANSACTING BUSINESS on the Worldwide Web.
Security issues are quickly being resolved, and the full power of the Internet is about to be unleashed. Microsoft Expedia, which I mentioned earlier and the highly successfull Amazon.com Internet bookseller is clear evidence that the future is now.
As capacity grows exponentially in the cruise business around the globe, the industry can no longer afford to wait.
The effective marketers in this industry realize only too well that the Internet is a low cost, essential complement to its traditional distribution network, offering options today to educate, entice, sell, support and resell the new and frequent customers that are almost limitless.
Initially, the major cruise lines may wish to limit their commercial Internet product to the travel agents who have continued to support them through an intranet or extranet scenario.
Eventually, however, the consumer will become an active participant benefitting from the interactive communications provided by the World Wide Web.
Electronic booking of cruises, ferry crossings and tours have existed for some time through the various international global distribution systems, and the GDS's will, off course, continue to play a role in the future.
In fact, effective automation of the tour and ferry market here in Europe is in many ways, well advanced compared to the United States.
Nevertheless, all the existing GDS solutions have definite limitations which will shortly be overcome by effective, content-rich Internet products.
Our own company that develops cruise reservation systems for the cruise and ferry industry is busily developing interfaces to the GDS for our worldwide client base.
But, I can assure you our real focus is most definitely on the Internet.
TTG is committed to Internet commerce as a significant benefit to our worldwide cruise clients.
In fact, utilizing Progress Software Webspeed we are finalizing a series of prototypes for our own Internet product that will be active later this year.
Let's take a look at what the site will offer (keep in mind that each of our clients will use their own graphics and sales message, and with Webspeed, we can easily customize the product for each client).
DEMONSTRATE CRUISE PARTNER INTERNET PROTOTYPE
Hopefully, you can visualize just how easy user-friendly this product will be - also colorful, enticing and designed to provide maximum security for our clients.
But the value of the Internet goes beyond the initial sale by the agent or the consumer directly.
Once booked, a future traveler can be given a unique code that will allow him to download his cruise documents, final instructions, together with an electric ticket code that will provide automatic embarkation at the time of sailing (similar to today's airline electronic ticketing).
This electronic transmission of documents will be of great savings to both the cruise lines as well as the travel agents while providing personalized documentation in a time frame and format that is most convenient to the traveler.
At the same time, with his password, he will have access to a review of shore excursions that will be available on his specific sailing and actually prebook his preferred excursion on the Internet in advance. (Presently our Ship Partner Property Management System offers shore excursions electronically from a passenger cabin inter-active TV on board Celebrity Cruises new vessels interfacing with Seavision).
It is a small step to advance this same service to the future passenger from his home via the Internet.
Again, similar to onboard inactive services now avaiable, it would even be possible to view daily dinner menus, select and pre-purchase daily wine specials so the pre-selected bottle is awaiting the arrival of the passenger each evening to the very table the passenger has pre-selected for this cruise - again all on the Internet.
For the cruise line, the total sales has increased incrementally for this passenger before they have arrived at the pier.
While, in the process, greatly enhancing the guest's anticipation of his cruise experience.
And remember, the more products and services sold in advance, the more expendable dollars that are available for the purchase of other activities once the cruise vacation begins: Spa treatments, casino contributions, merchandise, photography - to name a few.
Once the totally satisfied, somewhat poorer traveler returns home, the Internet again provides the cruise line an opportunity to service and sell that same loyal customer.
With a password, he can complete surveys and/or past passenger profiles that can be utilized to assist the cruise line in convincing the customer to rebook electronically next year's vacation for himself, his family and friends at special password controlled discounts presented periodically on the Internet.
To maintain the enthusiasm of the loyal customer and generate further revenue between cruises, there will be the opportunity to purchase product merchandise with swipe of his credit card reader attached to his PC.
As I said at the beginning, the Internet is a self fulfilling prophency and will change the way travel is sold and customers are serviced by cruise and ferry companies in the future.
To the skeptics among us, wait until proven - and be left behind.
The success marketers are now embracing the Internet as the single most important advancement for the cruise and ferry industry to market effectively
As Carnival Cruise's President, Bob Dickinson has preached year in and year out, the key to the worldwide growth of the cruise industry is attracting the first time cruiser.
Do so, and the industry will grow and prosper for generations.
There simply is no better tool today - or tomorrow - to sell consumers around the globe their first cruise than the Internet.
Further, there is no greater tool than the Internet to effectively service and resell that same consumer again and again.