Thousands of pounds and hundreds of man hours are being ploughed into new and upgraded cruise training schemes to ensure agents know and understand the difference between the cruiselines and ships.
Agent training programmes are not news; operators, cruiselines and tourist boards have all invested heavily in them over the past few years to ensure their name is at the tip of every agent’s tongue when clients come to book a cruise.
What is unusual, though, is that cruiselines’ training budgets have not just survived these money-saving recessionary times, but increased in many cases.
This month, Royal Caribbean Cruises relaunched its revamped Cruising for Excellence programme, while Windstar has just launched its first online learning programme through the Association of Cruise Experts’ elite training academy. Four modules take agents through every aspect of a Windstar cruise, from dining and destinations, to life on board.
Norwegian Cruise Line has just launched part two of its NCL University training scheme – available through the NCL trade partners site – while Silversea is adding a module on new ship Silver Spirit to its Silversea Academy training programme launched last year. The luxury cruiseline also has a training programme in the ACE academy.
Royal Caribbean training manager Michelle Russell said demand for training has escalated. She held two virtual training sessions in January and February 2008. This year more than 232 agents have taken the virtual training.
She said: “Agents want to learn as much as they can at the moment because they have to do more to sell a cruise.”
For the virtual training sessions, agents dial into a conference call line, log in to a virtual classroom and can then speak to each other and the trainer.
Sessions range from 30 minutes to an hour and a half and are themed to focus on product and sales campaigns of the new CruiseMatch Online booking tool, which replaces viewdata from April 16. Agents can type questions at any time and the text is colour coded.
Russell said: “Sessions can be in the day or in the evening. I did one at 11pm last year for 16 agents.”
The new-look Cruising for Excellence programme allows agents to focus on one cruise brand if they wish – Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara – rather than learning about all three.
They can also now dip in and out of the training instead of having to complete a module in one sitting. The different levels of competence have gone – there is now just essential training, split by brand, for newcomers and Captain level. Agents have to retake a test each year to revalidate their Captain’s certificate.
Norwegian Cruise Line UK general manager Stephen Park said rather than cutting back, NCL has increased its training budget by 25% this year.
Park said: “Last year’s Partnership 2.0 research programme showed many agents don’t know about Freestyle and the other things that make NCL different, so we are investing more in training to get that message across. NCLU is fun and informal – it’s the NCL way to train.”
He said 1,500 agents signed up for NCLU when it launched and 750 have passed the first course. The second gives agents the lowdown on each NCL ship, with information about everything from entertainment, to dining and life on board.
Park admitted most of the training budget is being invested in NCL’s top-selling agents. “Money is tight so we want to invest in our core 50 agents – the people who have a passion for cruise.”
NCL’s top agents can join the President’s Club UK, which rewards their efforts with additional marketing, operational and sales support, VIP fam trips and ship visits.
Silversea managing director UK and Ireland Trudy Redfern said a recession is a time to step up agents’ training. “I’ve never known a sector of the travel industry that offers as much training as cruising but it is confusing for agents so they do need guidance.”
Redfern said 947 agents have signed up for the Silversea Academy since it launched in May 2008 and 582 have completed the first six modules.
Read Jane Archer’s observations on the cruise sector at our Cruise Lines blog
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