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Oceania urges agents to upskill

While the global travel distribution sector is understandably focused on short-term issues like staff shortages, flight capacity and disruptions, one major cruise line is also suggesting travel advisors should lift their gaze beyond the immediate and be prepared to sell products with a longer time horizon to shore up their future.

Oceania Cruises recently launched its 2025 Grand Voyages program – including an innovative two-ship, two-continent combination of an Australian circumnavigation and an exploration of the Chilean fjiords – and demand for the itineraries has been strong. However the travel agent channel is taking some time to recover after the travails of the last two years, according to Oceania President Howard Sherman.

In Sydney for the first time ever this week, Sherman told travelBulletin “the biggest challenge we’ve got right now is that travel agents are very focused on now – and that’s of course because it’s all about cash generation for survival. But we were already selling into 2024, and now we’ve launched itineraries out to 2025.” He was backed up by Steve Odell, Oceania MD Asia-Pacific, who said “it’s all about getting travel agents to get their heads around the opportunity that sits out there for 2025”.

Sherman said travel agencies which stayed fully staffed throughout the pandemic have come out of it much better than those that laid off their teams and are now futilely trying to look for consultants now.

“But we have we have found across the industry is that the travel agency channel has come out of it weaker than when we went into COVID-19, so for us it’s all about trying to be as good a partner as we can, and help get them back on their feet as quickly as possible”.

And the opportunities are abundant – including huge interest in the May 2023 launch of Oceania Vista, the brand’s first newbuild in more than a decade. Vista will have capacity for about 1,200 passengers, which Odell and Sherman said was likely to appeal to cruisers who take the top suites with other brands who are seeking a smaller ship experience. “The upper premium segment are looking for smaller ships, albeit at a different price point,” Odell asserted.

Oceania Vista, the newbuild set to launch in Europe in May 2023.

Continuing Oceania’s tradition of “the finest cuisine at sea,” Vista will feature a fourth specialty restaurant, the American-style Ember, alongside current favourites Toscana, the Polo Grill and Red Ginger which appear on other ships in the fleet. Another innovation is an outdoor pizza bar, from which Oceania characteristically aims to serve the best pizza in the world, courtesy of special flour sourced from Italy – similar to the pursuit of excellence which sees on-board baguettes made with French-supplied flour and butter with 84% butterfat just to evoke those authentic Parisian flavours.

Oceania is working hard to drive enquiry and source new clientele in Australia, with a range of complementary partnerships with organisations such as the Queensland Ballet, Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art and a soon-to-be announced new culinary pact. Odell said these initiatives “are getting us into the right circle and the right demographic,” offering behind-the-scenes encounters and exclusive experiences to potential cruise customers. Travel agency partnerships are also key, with Oceania open to any good ideas around cooperative marketing, Odell said.

Sherman said he had noted an increasing recognition of the importance of cruising among the wider tourism sector in Australia. With a background in destination development at Oceania’s parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, he has plenty of experience in seeing the benefits of cruise visitation. “This is a really interesting trend at the moment, clearly the Australian tourism industry is seeing cruise as a way to really boost inbound travel very quickly,” he noted.

“What we find around the world is people will often come the first time to a destination on a cruise ship, and then they figure out where they want to go back to. So those destinations that present themselves well to the cruise traveller become the ongoing beneficiaries in perpetuity,” Sherman added.

He said cruise tourism was also very efficient for tourist boards, because “the cruise line is doing the initial marketing to acquire the customer…so it’s even better than the local tourism organisation having to go out and do the hard work”.

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