Keeping the Caribbean cruising experience fresh

Rebecca Gibson asks Ugo Savino how Carnival Cruise Line’s destination partners have helped to keep the company’s Caribbean itineraries popular with guests for almost 50 years

Keeping the Caribbean cruising experience fresh
Many of Carnival’s Caribbean itineraries include calls at its Amber Cove cruise port in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Cruising and the Caribbean have become synonymous over the past 50 years.

“Whenever anyone thinks about a cruise vacation, they picture the white-sand beaches and pristine waters that are characteristic of the Caribbean’s beautiful islands,” says Ugo Savino, director of deployment and itinerary planning at Carnival Cruise Line. “It’s the world’s most popular cruise destination and a growing number of ships are being deployed in the region. Carnival has carried more guests to the Caribbean than any other cruise operator over the past five decades, and we still offer the largest portfolio of sailings from US ports to the Caribbean.”

Some of Carnival’s most popular itineraries are short cruises from US ports like Miami, Port Canaveral, New Orleans, Galveston and Long Beach, which call at various destinations on the east and west coasts of the USA, Mexico and the Caribbean. “These itineraries offer Carnival’s signature ‘fun in the sun’ experience and they combine two key components: a short getaway and destinations that offer a wide variety of things to do,” explains Savino. “Seven destinations always top the polls when our guests vote for their favourite destinations including Aruba; Cozumel in Mexico; Curaçao; Half Moon Cay, The Bahamas; Mahogany Bay, Honduras; St. Maarten; and St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.”

According to Savino, there are several factors that make destinations stand out when Carnival is planning itineraries. “Safety and infrastructure are two of the major deal-breakers – if our ships cannot safely and easily access the port and our guests don’t feel comfortable going onshore, we simply won’t call there, no matter how beautiful and amazing the destination is,” he says. “We also look for destinations with friendly locals because they play a vital role in achieving guest satisfaction. From local taxi drivers to shop owners, waiters, tour guides and residents – everyone who interacts with guests has an impact on their overall onshore experience. In fact, our guests often credit these people with making their vacation memorable.”

Another critical criterion is that the destination must offer a wide range of onshore activities and consistently deliver an outstanding and memorable experience to guests. “We have guests of all demographics and psychographics, so we favour destinations that have taken the time to understand how to cater to their diverse expectations,” says Savino. “A happy guest is a retained guest, and this creates a win-win situation for everyone – from Carnival to those living and working in the destination, such as local tour operators, restaurants, shop owners and many others.

“To accomplish this, I suggest that our destination partners take a holistic and analytical approach. For example, I know of one destination that has appointed a manager of guest experience – this is a first in the cruise industry, but I expect more destinations will follow suit and adopt similar measures soon.”

While Carnival expects Caribbean cruise destinations to remain popular long into the future, it continues to invest significant time and resources to work with destination partners to ensure its itineraries stay fresh and relevant for both first-time and repeat guests.

“Enhancing the cruise experience for our guests is our priority and we know destinations are the main reason guests choose a Carnival cruise, so it’s crucial that we do all we can to help the destinations we visit to be successful,” Savino explains. “We’re also fully aware of the essential role the cruise industry plays in sustaining and growing the economies of the Caribbean islands. The livelihoods of thousands and thousands of locals depend on the business that Carnival ships bring to these destinations, so it’s in everyone’s best interests to work together.”

Consequently, Carnival hosts meetings with its destination partners and attends events hosted by industry associations like the Florida-Caribbean Association and Cruise Lines Industry Association to build and grow these relationships.

“We always make ourselves available for any opportunities to collaborate with our destination partners so we can foster mutual success,” says Savino. “Open and frank communication is essential, so we share both good and bad news, review best practices, and identify any problems and work together to find the most effective solutions. Crucially, we also consider feedback from our guests, officers and crew members because they visit these destinations frequently and often notice important things that we may overlook from our corporate headquarters.”

In addition, destination representatives can brief Carnival on any new onshore offerings and initiatives that may interest guests so the itinerary planning team can evaluate how best to capitalise on them.

“All of these conversations provide us with a treasure trove of incredibly powerful knowledge and insights that both Carnival and our destination partners can use to improve the onshore experience and itinerary planning,” Savino says. “This ongoing and evolving process leads us to pinpoint new ways to include destinations in our programmes, change the ports we visit, alter the sequence of the ports featured in our itineraries, optimise the number of hours we spend in port, and much more. We apply this process systematically to all the itineraries in our portfolio.

“Ultimately, our goal is to improve guest satisfaction and overall financial performance for Carnival and establishing symbiotic relationships with destinations is central to achieving this aim. This approach is going to become even more important as we look at how to effectively cruise in the new operating paradigm.”

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Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson
03 February 2021

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