For Costa Cruises’ North American marketing division, the Caribbean is out and Europe is in. “We’re going to shrink our focus to non-Caribbean destinations,” Costa President and CEO Maurice Zarmati told Cruise Week.
With only one ship in the Caribbean next winter, Costa is encouraging North American travel sellers to focus on Europe and other markets where it operates. To help drive that shift, the company is putting the finishing touches on a new travel seller program that will be launched in about 60 days. The benefits will go to those who actively sell the product. “Right now, we’re dealing with a few thousand brokers,” Zarmati says. “But when it’s all said and done, it’s going to be a few hundred.”
For those select few, Costa will pony up more co-op, more commissions, more deals (on non-Caribbean products), and more service than in the past. The criteria? Travel sellers must have a long-term relationship with Costa. “They have to like us,” Zarmati says. “It’s important that they believe in the product.”
A 41-year veteran of Carnival Corp., Zarmati is arguably the most experienced executive from Carnival’s old guard, particularly now that Bob Dickinson has retired. But even with all that experience, can Zarmati and crew pull off the big job of convincing travel sellers that they’re better off putting their clients on a European product in Europe than on a tried-and-true, red, white, and blue brand?
Cruisenow.com’s John Keen thinks so, though he concedes that Costa in Europe will not be for everyone, particularly those who find comfort being with their peers on ships with a decidedly American ambience and lifestyle. He also acknowledges that selling Costa will take more effort than selling HAL or Princess.
The key, Keen believes, is to sell the idea of full immersion. “When we put clients on a land package, they are immersed in Italy,” he says. “If we can sell them that same concept on a cruise ship, they’ll appreciate the experience a lot more.”
He has a point: Europhiles will indeed get more out of Europe by cruising Costa. On Deliziosa, for example, there was no perceptible break in continuity between being ashore in Italian ports and being onboard the ship. The destinations and ship complemented one another.
Italian-flagged Costa does a good job at presenting a distinctly Italian lifestyle onboard. Staff greet customers with ‘Buon Giorno’ and ‘Buona Sera.’ Pasta, pizza, cappuccino, and espresso are ubiquitous and consumed in impressive quantities. Pricing onboard is in Euros (a cappuccino costs 2 Euros). And there’s no shortage of Italian passengers, who represent the majority on Costa ships, with Germans and other Europeans also well-represented.
To cater to a growing international passenger base, signage, the rare announcement, and muster drills are presented in six languages–Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. The multitude of languages proves to be tedious only during the muster drill.
Zarmati believes the line’s new strategy to focus on Europe will pay off, even if agents need to work a little harder to close the sale. “We visit the Caribbean and own Europe,” Zarmati says. “The other cruise lines visit Europe and own the Caribbean.”