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February 22, 2016By: Susan Young


 

Costa Cruises, which began sailing from Port Everglades in the 1950s, is back at the South Florida port with Costa Deliziosa after a brief stint sailing from PortMiami. // Photos by Susan J. Young

Travel Agent caught up with Scott Knutson, vice president of sales and marketing for North AmericaCosta Cruises, aboard the 2,260-passenger Costa Deliziosa, as that ship began its series of winter Caribbean sailings earlier this year from Port Everglades, FL.

We chatted with Knutson about Costa’s agent base, what clients are best for the Italian-style brand and how discounting benefits the North American clientele. Here are highlights.

What advice do you have for agents interested in selling Costa?

First thing, qualify the client. It’s critically important to make sure you as their advisor know precisely what your client is looking for in a vacation. What do they like? How have they traveled in the past? What types of experiences do they like?

Costa Deliziosa's Dining Room // Photo by Susan J. Young

That's particularly true when putting a guest on Costa, as we're not the typical cruise product. We're an authentic Italian-style cruise with an international experience aboard. We're not an Americanized product.

It’s really important that agents put the right people on our product. For example, if clients are seeking a full immersion in an international experience, that’s good, but if they also want to go exotic but then come back to an American style hotel after touring ashore, we’re probably not the right product.

What about compensation and trade support?

It’s good for agents to know that we're very aggressive as far as compensation. We know it takes a bit more time to qualify a client for Costa and to explain what we’re all about.

We’re here to help agents make a profitable business for themselves. While base commission starts at 10 percent, our top accounts make as much as twice that.

This isn't a product for order takers, where the customer is driven in the door by the brand. It takes consultative selling. Agents need to say: “If you’re interested in a European tour or cruise, let me tell you about a brand you may not know about.” And then ask all the right questions.

We offer regular webinars to help agents know more about Costa, and we’ll be out with the agency community at such events this year as cruise3sixty in Vancouver.

A guest accommodations corridor on Costa Deliziosa // Photo by Susan J. Young

One positive factor is we’re a small operation here at the North American headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, so agents don't have to go through many levels to reach someone who can act quickly.

We work with more than 3,000 agencies on an annual basis, but a couple of hundred agents do the vast majority of our bookings. We’re growing those agencies one at a time. It’s important they know where we fit.

What are Costa's demographics and primary markets?

It is a little different based on our destinations and where we’re sailing. We’re primarily 10-day Caribbean, so that right away tweaks the age up about 10 or 12 years.

In the winter – except for Christmas and New Year’s – it’s not really a kid-friendly time period so for the Caribbean voyages, sailing from Port Everglades, FL, the average age is probably 58 to 62.

Scott Knutson, Costa's VP of sales & marketing, North America, shown on Costa Mediterranea. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Right now, we also do have a few ships operating in the southern Caribbean, departing from La Romana in the Dominican Republic and from Guadeloupe. Those ships are sourced primarily by Europeans, so the average age is going to be a little bit younger; those are seven-day cruises.

When we get over to the Mediterranean, which is the primary market for North America and for the entire brand – we come down about six or seven years. So our average age is about 52 in the Mediterranean.

But when you think about the Europeans, they have 30-day holidays so they tend to dominate the Mediterranean. But we do get our fair share of North American families that also sail with us in Europe. Obviously, children onboard brings the average age down.

What incentives do North American clients have?

North America is one of 12 offices for Costa across the globe. The European market is so large, that if they [Costa corporate in Italy] have a pricing opportunity [to help fill cabins last minute], they give it to us before disrupting the brand’s largest source market of Europe.

So we do a lot of last-minute offers where we get preferential pricing here in North America. Those attract dual-income, no-kids-at-home clients who just want to get away from home and can pull it off at the last minute. These tactical sales definitely benefit some North American residents who don’t have all the dealings of kids’ schedule.

The colorful atrium of Costa Deliziosa, which sails this winter from Port Everglades, FL. About 30 percent of its guests are from North America. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Why has the line returned to Port Everglades this year?

We have a lot of history at Port Everglades, sailing from back in the 1950s. If you go back to 1952, we were the first to sail in the Caribbean year-round, before the other big brands were even on the scene.

We went into Miami recently for just a few years as Miami International Airport was more advantageous for charters, important for international groups.

But our logistics and our sourcing has changed a little bit. We’re now sourcing about 30 percent North Americans at Port Everglades so the charter flight options aren't so critical. For the international charters, it’s just a little bit of a challenge, but guests also can easily fly on scheduled airline service into either Miami or Fort Lauderdale airports.

We’re now back sailing from Port Everglades this winter with Costa Deliziosa. She’s completely sold out for the rest of the Caribbean season, so we’re focusing now on selling more in the Mediterranean.

Agents can see a slide show of some public spaces on Costa Deliziosa from Travel Agent’s brief visit onboard in January.

What are the top North American sourcing destinations for Costa's guests?

The atrium of Costa Deliziosa, now sailing from Port Everglades, FL. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Florida would be number one for the Port Everglades departures. In a 10-day product where we’re going to skew a little older, it’s the perfect market.

We get a lot of business from Naples, Venice, Sarasota and Tampa; our bookings are stronger from the west coast – versus the east coast – of Florida, perhaps because of the demographic.

Costa, though, also attracts many guests from Palm Beach County, Greater Fort Lauderdale and Miami-Dade County. It also attracts many people from the Midwest who may be coming to Florida and are seeking a 10-day contemporary product that’s a bit different with good pricing.

Costa also does very well with Canada sourcing. Almost 30 percent of our North American business for Port Everglades comes from the Canadians because they’re down here a lot – often as snow birds spending the winter in Florida.

Also, Canadians just looking to get away are looking for an international experience as opposed to an American hotel experience. We play well into that for the Canadians.

California is a very large market for us because of its sheer size. It’s our number one market for us in terms of where we sail worldwide, rather than just the Caribbean.

Is there better product differentiation of late in the cruise industry?

Yes, absolutely. Everyone’s trying to find their brand and expand on it. We’ve certainly done it.

We ‘own’ Italy. We’re Italy’s largest line. Plus, we've partnered with the finest brands in Italy. We haven't tried to Americanize the product. We focus on the best of Italy including style, hospitality, quality, passion and innovation.

What's new with Costa this year?

We're excited that Costa has appointed New York-based hospitality designer Adam D. Tihany as creative director for our two new ships scheduled for delivery in 2019 and 2020; they're both powered with Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

Separately, in conjunction with Milan Fashion Week, Costa recently launched a new clothing and accessories collection created with SLAM, a traditional Genoese brand with nautical roots that specializes in technical clothing and sportswear; guests will find these fashion items in our onboard shops.

Travel agents can tap into our 10 new themed Costa Cruise Tours vacation packages for 2016. Offered from April through November 2016, these packages — in partnership with Central Holidays — offer immersive overland explorations paired with a cruise on one of four Costa ships.

Included are roundtrip flights to three Italian cities, first-class hotel accommodations and week-long Mediterranean cruises. These packages focus on art, history, nature, culinary, wine and other themes. On the Food Lovers tour, guests will visit a market in Orvieto, Italy, to gather ingredients for an Umbrian cooking class.

Costa has five ships in Europe this coming winter. // Photo by Susan J. Young

This year we're also celebrating the 15th anniversary of CostaClub, our guest loyalty program. We've recently updated the program with two new membership clubs, new limits and rules for accumulating points and new benefits to reward our most loyal guests with exclusive, personalized privileges.

And just recently, we announced that Costa will become the world's first cruise line to produce authentic Mozzarella di Bufala onboard. Guests can look for it at the new Mozzarella Gourmet Bar on ships across the fleet.

How can clients get the best value in Europe?

If clients want to vacation in Europe, the Mediterranean in winter – November through March — is a great option. We have five ships in Europe during the winter. In addition, your clients will enjoy lower airfares and fewer crowds.

Travelers typically will visit five European cities during a seven-day Costa cruise for under $1,000 per couple. Inside staterooms can be had for $499 per person double occupancy.

For those who want balcony accommodations, our pricing for those staterooms starts around $849 per person double.

It's a great value for those wishing to see Europe, sail on an authentic, Italian-style cruise product and become immersed in an international experience.

 

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