Delivering memorable guest experiences has always been the number one priority for cruise lines. While it’s crucial to provide exciting onboard offerings, many operators have recognised that destinations are often the deciding factor when guests choose their cruises, so they have been focusing their efforts on developing activities for their guests to enjoy once ashore.
From exclusive access to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, to behind-the-scenes tours at museums and castles, cookery classes and wine tastings led by local experts, and activities like kayaking that provide wildlife-spotting opportunities – cruise guests now have a vast choice of intimate and authentic shore excursions and experiences that take them closer to their destination, its culture and its people.
Consequently, guests’ expectations for operators to deliver the best possible cruise experience are higher than ever before. This creates both opportunities and challenges for operators.
“Port availability and congestion are major problems for Carnival Australia, especially in the peak cruise season when there are a large number of international ships cruising in Australia and New Zealand,” says Matthew Rutherford, vice president of revenue management and deployment at Carnival Australia. “The key to overcoming this is to be creative with destinations and the subsequent excursions we offer.”
Carnival Australia’s seven brands – Carnival Cruise Line, P&O Australia, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn, Cunard, and P&O Cruises UK – are taking a creative approach to developing shore excursions that exceed guest expectations. Guests sailing on Princess Cruises’ Australia-based ships, for example, have the opportunity to trek through one of the world’s last temperate rainforests in Tasmania, snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef or ride camelback in Broome, Australia.
“The destinations team for P&O Cruises is also always searching for new and exciting ports of call to appeal to our guests,” Rutherford adds. “For example, in 2016 we added the beautiful Conflict Islands in Papua New Guinea, a remote coral atoll in the Coral Sea. When guests choose a shore excursion, they get the benefit of being taken care of by our local guides and tour experts. We’ve searched out the best sights, wonders and adventures at each destination, so they get the very best of every port of call.”
Another challenge when it comes to creating unforgettable cruise moments is that itineraries must be developed years in advance.
“We need to be able to predict the trends and preferences of tomorrow’s passengers with the information available to us today,” explains Álvaro Platas, corporate strategy and itinerary planning manager at Pullmantur Cruises. “Ports are likely to become more congested as more cruise vessels enter the market in the coming years, so deciding which are worth the risk is difficult. Also, a location’s geopolitical situation can change dramatically overnight and this is obviously very difficult to foresee.”
While there are no obvious solutions to some of these challenges, Pullmantur is making good use of customer feedback to ensure it continues to give guests the experiences they want.
“At Pullmantur, we try to carry out extensive analysis which allows us to understand how our guests interact with the destinations we provide so that we can create opportunities to surprise them and continue our development,” Platas says. “We try to offer more personalised experiences that allow our guests to get closer to their destinations and the locals, and the feedback from our passengers is vital in planning for this.
“From this information, we realised that our guests wanted to spend more time in Athens, so we decided to include an overnight stay in the city in our Greek Islands route this season. Our guests also showed a growing interest to visit Iceland, so next season we will begin travelling to the country for the first time.”
Carnival Australia has also committed to improving its shore excursions based on how previous customers have felt about their experiences.
“All guests have the opportunity to provide feedback on every aspect of their cruise experience,” Rutherford explains. “This provides invaluable information which we use to continually enhance our onboard product and destinations in the itineraries we offer.”
For example, customer feedback helped P&O Cruises shape its seven-night ‘Pacific Island Hopper’ cruise from Brisbane, Australia. “This is a great example of a very successful itinerary,” says Rutherford. “It runs from Saturday to Saturday, so it only requires passengers to take five days of annual leave. Plus, the great balance of days at sea and port calls make it a winning combination.”
While the Pacific isles are popular with Carnival Australia’s guests, Pullmantur’s passengers are looking for cruise itineraries to other areas of the world for the ultimate marine adventure.
“Our Dubai and ‘Legends of Arabia’ itineraries have been a huge success since they launched in winter 2018,” says Platas. “It was the first time that a Spanish cruise line offered a voyage in this region and thousands of our passengers joined us for the momentous occasion.”
By listening closely to feedback and applying creative thinking to diversify their itineraries, Pullmantur and Carnival are able to go beyond simply satisfying their guests, and instead delight and surprise them by delivering shore excursions that exceed their expectations.
“We’re carrying out a detailed review of all of our products, with the sole objective of evolving while putting even more emphasis on our Spanish DNA,” Platas explains. “We are always looking for new destinations to enrich our portfolio and analysing how we can improve our current routes to make them even more appealing. In addition, we are working to eliminate the interportings in Europe, giving our passengers more of a sense of community by allowing them all to embark in the same port and on the same day.”
Carnival Australia’s brands will also be doubling down on their efforts to enhance their Antipodean adventures. “Over the coming years, we will be paying particular attention to improving our shore excursion options,” says Rutherford. “In our pursuit of this, we will strengthen our partnerships with local communities and businesses, with the aim of giving our customers a more exclusive and personal destination experience.”
This article was first published in the 2019 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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