Fathom May Delay Cuba Sailing Because Of Discriminatory Policy

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Carnival Corp. may delay the first Cuba sailings of its Fathom brand because of a rule preventing any Cuban-born Americans from returning to Cuba.

News broke last week that Fathom had come under scrutiny for not allowing Cuba-born Americans to book cabins on their Cuban sailings. But the cruise line responded, saying that it wasn’t a policy of Carnival that was preventing it from happening, but rather it was coming from the Cuban government.

On Monday, Carnival took a stand. It said that not only would it begin accepting bookings from passengers born in Cuba, but if the rule isn’t changed, it would delay its first Cuban sailings.

Last week, a lawsuit claimed Carnival was discriminating against two Cuban-Americans who were turned away by a Fathom booking agent.

In response, Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell said in a statement that the company has “requested a change in the regulation and [is] actively working on the issue. It is our hope and intention that everyone can travel and we will continue to pursue a change in the regulation that puts cruising on the same footing as aircraft travel is today in Cuba.”

The lawsuit was followed by protests outside of Carnival’s headquarters in Doral, a suburb of Miami.

Fathom’s statements on Monday pits the cruise line firmly against Cuba’s decade-old policy of not letting ex-pats, many of whom fled the Communist regime, return home.

Meanwhile, after a false start last week, Fathom has finally seen its first sailing hit the open water.

Fathom’s Adonia successfully sailed out of Port Miami on Sunday, departing on a week-long itinerary to the Dominican Republican.

Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald was on hand to toast to Fathom president Tara Russell and the entire Fathom team.

“We’re about the change the world,” he said.

The multiple “sliding fire screen doors” problems found by the Coast Guard that had forced Fathom to cancel its first sailing last week have been fixed. During the whole process, Fathom maintained that its April 17 sailing will go ahead as planned.

At the ceremony in Miami, Russell said that while the process of building the cruise brand wasn’t easy, it was “the time for Fathom.”

“Most people tell you you’re crazy, trust me. Most people don’t believe it can happen, trust me,” she said.

Islip MacArthur Airport Gets a New Tenant

MacArAirport
Originally published on Travel Market Report.

A third airline is moving into one of New York’s almost-forgotten airports.

National Airlines announced last week that it will be flying daily between Islip (ISP) and Puerto Rico. Starting in July, National will fly from Islip to Puerto Rico’s two most popular airports—Rafael Hernández Airport (BQN) in Aguadilla and Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) in San Juan.

“The City of Islip is a wonderful and engaging community, and Long Island MacArthur Airport offers both outstanding service and convenience for our customers. National Airlines believes there is demand for our unique brand of exclusive service at inclusive fares between Islip, San Juan and Aguadilla,” Edward Davidson, National’s president and COO, told TMR.

National Airlines is an Orlando-based carrier with a fleet of only six aircraft as of November 2015. With the addition of Islip, it serves just six North American destinations besides Orlando—San Juan and Aguadilla, Puerto Rico; Islip, New York; Windsor, Ontario; and, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Its new Islip-to-San-Juan routes will leave Islip at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday and return from San Juan at 2:30 p.m. Its Islip Aguadilla routes will operate at the same times, leaving Islip at 9 a.m. and returning at 2:30 p.m., on Monday and Friday each week.

A little history
A 2001 NY Times article lauded MacArthur as an airport with significant advantages over the other closest New York domestic airport—LaGuardia—because of its lack of delays and location outside of New York City restrictions.

“The Islip airport is looking better and better to business and pleasure travelers willing to settle for fewer direct flights and remoteness from Manhattan in exchange for delay-free, minimum-hassle departures and landings at MacArthur, which is 42 miles east of La Guardia,” the article said.

But times have changed in Suffolk County.

Islip has always been a small airport, but its number of departures has decreased steadily in the past 10 years—to a low of 602,000 in 2015—as Southwest acquired more gates at LaGuardia and moved more flights there, and as travelers came to understand that “just 42 miles” can be a very long way in rush-hour traffic.

At the moment, the only airlines to operate daily, direct flights from Islip are Southwest, which flies to Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa, and West Palm Beach, and American Airlines’ regional branch American Eagle, which flies to Philadelphia.

The new National route provides some optimism for the airport’s future. It comes as the Town of Islip is in talks to add a customs facility, which would make international flights possible.

RCCL’s CEO On Travel Agents And A Royal Expansion

RCCLPicOriginally published on Travel Market Report.

For Royal Caribbean and its CEO and president Michael Bayley, there is no more important partner than the travel-agent community. And while Royal wants guests to book their cruises however they feel most comfortable, most are still doing so through a travel professional.

“We love travel agents, we will always be loyal to our travel agents,” Bayley told Travel Market Report. “They are our true partners.”

Travel professionals are Royal Caribbean’s “most critical sales channel,” Bayley said, accounting for “a huge percentage” of all bookings. “Agents are by far our most dominant channel.”

The largest cruise line in the market has run into some hard times on the PR side recently, with the Oasis of the Seas—its largest cruise ship—being hit with 30-foot-high waves and hurricane-force winds on the first day of its journey, a touch of norovirus, and a corporate decision to tighten its cancellation policy.

But Bayley remains optimistic about where Royal is headed.

Perhaps the most exciting growth should come in China, he said, where Royal Caribbean soon will be the largest single cruise line in the Asian market. It has three ships—Mariner of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas, and Legend of the Seas—homeported in China, and will add another in April when the Ovation of the Seas debuts.

Still, “the U.S. will always be our top market,” he said. By November in Florida alone Royal Caribbean will be cruising 15,000 guests at a time, with the Oasis of the Seas, the Allure of the Seas, and the Harmony of the Seas all homeporting in Florida ports.

The Harmony, which  just successfully completed its first sea trials on Monday, will be the largest ship in the world when it debuts in Southampton, England, in May. It will be so large that its 6,000guests will be issued wristbands with GPSs so they won’t get lost.

Innovation Takes The Stage At Seatrade

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First published on Travel Market Report.

The majority of people on a Royal Caribbean Cruise Line sailing may not be able to climb to the top of the ship’s rock wall, but having it available is meaningful to everyone on board.

“The truth is most of our guests can’t climb to the top. But they want the option,” said Royal Caribbean International chairman and CEO Richard Fain. “It says something about the industry. It really helps redefine us.”

Indeed, redefining cruising through innovation was the theme of the State of the Cruise Industry panel at the 32nd annual of Seatrade Cruise Global in Fort Lauderdale this week.

Royal Caribbean’s Fain was joined by Norwegian Cruise Line president and CEO Frank Del Rio, Carnival Corporation president and CEO Arnold Donald, and MSC Cruises executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago on the panel.

According to Del Rio, the cruise industry is steadily growing at 6% per year, due in large part not to the newer vessels entering the market, but to new options being offered on older ones.

“NCL will spend an excess of half a billion dollars to upgrade our vessels,” he said. “You’re going to see a more balanced approach of new builds and maintaining the existing fleets.”

For Carnival, Donald said the route to innovation comes from listening to passengers. “You have to think differently. We listen very carefully to the guest,” he said. “Innovation for us is actually how you convert that difference of thinking to, what is in the end, an experience.”

Solo cabins
While cruise lines try to cater to the growing market of solo travelers, NCL’s Del Rio said that designating a significant number of cabins on a ship to solo travelers just doesn’t make financial sense. “It’s not the best return, it’s an adequate return, [for us] and we’ll include single cabins on all our new builds,” Del Rio said. “But I doubt we will increase the percentage.”

“It’s an innovation,” Del Rio said, but “it’s not our top-of-the-list innovation.”

Not everyone agreed, however. Cunard’s refurbishment of the Queen Mary 2 adds 15 solo cabins—something CEO David Noyes called “an important part of [our market].”

“On the original Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth 2, there were a number of solo cabins and we’re following in that tradition,” he said. Noyes said Cunard almost always sells out of solo cabins on each sailing.

Zika and challenges to growth
Though the cruise industry is constantly growing, there are potential challenges on the horizon: fuel prices going up, Zika and other viruses spreading, and political tensions and terrorist attacks. Yet all the panelists predicted strong growth, with new ships and new destinations increasing the total number of cruise passengers from 23 million in 2015 to 24 million this year.

“The history of the industry has been remarkably strong,” said Fain, noting how quickly the industry recovered after 9/11.

“That stuff happens every year. So as long as it happens every year the way it’s be happening, as long as people don’t totally panic, we’re fine,” agreed Donald. “It’s just part of our business.”

Cuba
At a cruise conference held the very day that the U.S. officials opened Cuba travel to individual travelers, the Communist island was obviously a hot topic.

“We are anxiously awaiting approval,” to sail there, said Donald, whose Fathom brand willl be one of the first to bring Americans there.

While Cuba does not have the infrastructure to support mega-ships right now, it will provide a spotlight for the Caribbean as a region, just as Royal’s rock-wall provides a spotlight for its brand. “In terms of size, it’s not going to divert that much traffic from other places because it doesn’t have the capability of handing that many ships,” said Fain. But “it has created a halo of interest…I think it will raise the Caribbean in total.”

The Caribbean is “by far the largest cruising destination today—42%-43% of all deployments—so I think Cuba when it opens up… will shine a bright light into the whole overall area,” said Del Rio.

French America Line Readies Its Sails

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First posted on Travel Market Report.

For the team behind the French America Line, a new American river cruise line that will debut in August, it’s the details that give them confidence in their new project.

“It’s the little touches that makes this [project] really special,” French America president Tom Markwell told TMR.

The cruise line is the brainchild of Christopher Kyte, the founder of Uncommon Journeys, one of North America’s top train tour operators. Kyte is joined by Markwell, a travel industry veteran with more than 20 years of expertise in river and coastal cruising, and Ken Grigsby, who was formerly in financial management with Kyte at Uncommon Journeys, who will serve as CEO.

The idea behind the cruise line is to meld a European river cruise style of operation—meal delivery, inclusions, and onboard amenities—with the hospitality and graciousness of the American South, while showcasing America’s French heritage.

Markwell sees his market as those looking for a personalized experience (the ship will accommodate 150) and have “traveled extensively abroad and specifically at this point in their lives are looking at something close to home without that 8-12 hour flight,” he said.

The line will sail 5- to 10-day sailings on some popular routes—the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers—as well as others, like the Red River, that hasn’t been sailed in decades.

It will offer two types of shore excursions: the Traveler Collection will be included in the price of the cruise; the Curator Collection will cost extra.

The Louisiane
French America will start with one ship, the Louisiane, though Markwell expects a second to be added within the next year.

The Louisiane last sailed in 2008 as Delta Queen Steamboat Company’s Columbia Queen until the company went out of business. She is currently undergoing a “fairly significant interior refurbishment to better reflect the company’s style,” Markwell said.

It will feature seven categories of staterooms, many with private verandas or balconies. The highest category, the two Richelieu Suites will have panoramic windows and wraparound outdoor promenade seating areas.

Every room will offer an iPad preloaded with cruise programs and dining menus.

In the kitchen, Chef de Cuisine Regina Charboneau will feature French, Southern American, and Continental meals, with service available 24/7. Dinner menus will change depending on the region in which the ship is sailing.

Lounges will include The French Quarter Lounge, featuring soft jazz each night; The Great River Room, for quiet card games or study; the Veranda, a casual French-Quarter-style eatery with indoor and outdoor seating; and the Bar Royale.

Prices will include WiFi in all public areas, a one-night pre-cruise stay in a deluxe luxury hotel with next- day breakfast and riverboat transfer, and liquor and beer.

What agents should know
Travel agents will “absolutely” be the main distribution channel for the cruise line, Markwell said.

“We definitely rely on agents for our primary means of distribution,” and will pay 15% commission on all inaugural-year sailings.

Starting in May, it will also hold monthly webinars on its website “to make sure agents really understand the project,” Markwell said.

Super Agent: Jaclyn Sienna India Sells Luxury To The Elite

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First posted on Travel Market Report.

Jaclyn Sienna India has come a long from getting fired on a nightly basis from a job hosting at Le Fin Bec, a five-star Philadelphia restaurant, a little over 10 years ago.

In between preparing for her first trip to Cuba and another to Spain and Portugal the week after, India recapped how she went from being a part-time hostess and art history student at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University to co-owner of one of the most successful luxury travel agencies in the country. Today the business she and her husband Freddy own, Sienna Charles, does between $5 million and $10 million in sales each year. She and her team of four have arranged travel for actors, NBA players, and a former president.

“I had one of those psychotic screaming bosses,” she said. “I used to get fired every night—I would leave out the front door and come back in the front door.”

She found her footing when she and her husband left Philly and moved to Florida, and she got a job at a traditional brick-and-mortar travel agency. Taking advantage of her experience at Le Fin Bec, she saw an opportunity.

“I never understood how travel agents were booking all kinds of luxury stuff when they had never been there,” she said. “They were being trusted by these wealthy clients and the service had been lost. The service at the restaurant was far greater.”

So India decided to sell only ultra-high-luxury vacations—and to do that successfully, she was going to have to experience that kind of travel for herself. She left that agency and started her own—and she began on the road.

Over the next four years, she and Freddy visited 50 countries, staying at high-end properties and eating at five-star restaurants. To get by, the two of them “literally did whatever it took to get the knowledge and feel good about ourselves,” she said. They AirBnB’ed their apartment an dimmersed themselves in the lifestyle of the rich and famous, seeing how luxury clients are treated, what magazines they read, what they’re looking for in a vacation.

“You have to know how they think, how they act, what they do,” she said. “You have to know their spending patterns so well.”

Then she started to look for potential clients, writing to the press to get the word out about her business and her travel experience. She got her first bite when a billionaire from Texas read an article about the places she had gone and hired her to arrange a trip. That one sale got her business started. Referrals started to roll in and the labor of love began to pay off. Other wealthy people—NBA player, actors—started to call.

On one trip where she and her husband brought President Bush, his wife, a number of their friends, and 30 secret service agents to Ethiopia to live with remote tribes.

The trip required charter jets and seven helicopters.  “He loved it, he has such an affinity for the African people,” she said.

Today India sells only high-end luxury, which means no coach tickets, nothing to which the agency can’t add value, and nothing she hasn’t experienced firsthand and can’t recommend personally.

Her brand reflects that experience, as well. No matter what the clients get from the Sienna Charles—from pamphlets to the agency’s office—it is designed with luxury in mind.

“Everything we push out takes so much time and is beautiful,” she said.

And that’s her advice to other agents: know what you’re selling, have a stake in your clients’ vacations, find out what works for you and dedicate yourself to it.

“It’s really easy to lose your identity,” she said.  “Know who you are and stick to your guns.”

As for her position now, she recognizes that things have come full circle since her time at Le Fin Bec. “Now I’m the psychotic screaming boss,” she said.