“The company is making a huge investment to make sure that it never happens again,” he said. “And we’re putting redundancy upon redundancy upon redundancy to make sure that never happens.”
After outlining the improvements to the fleet, Carnival shifted its attention to another key area: travel agents, who are essential to driving business to cruise lines.
The relationship between the brand and agents had already been strained before the Triumph ordeal for a host of reasons.
Mike Driscoll, editor of the trade publication Cruise Week, said agents were discouraged because they had trouble making money on Carnival sales and felt a lack of support from the cruise line. Competitors, meanwhile, had stepped up to court travel sellers.
“I would get emails from agents saying, ‘At some point, they’re going to regret this — they’re going to need us,’ ” Driscoll said.
In June, the company announced it was launching a program called “Carnival Conversations,” aimed at hearing and addressing concerns from travel agents. The initiative started with a series of road shows around the country and has resulted in several changes already. Since July, Carnival has granted bonus commissions on some sailings, beefed up its website for agents, offered free sailings and made other gestures to improve relations.
Lynn Torrent, the line’s executive vice president of sales and guest services, said Carnival is also working on adjusting the way fare codes are structured in response to feedback that pricing was too complicated. And the company is also investing more in call center workers who help travel agents, hiring more people, giving them better training and having managers listen to calls to make sure service is good.
While Torrent said some agents have been doubtful that Carnival will continue its agent-friendly approach, she urges them to give the company a chance.
“Actions speak louder than words,” she said. “We are making these changes, we’re not going to roll them back. It’s hard not to sound defensive. Just give us a shot, stick with us and you’ll see.”
David Crooks, senior vice president of product and operations for cruise distributor World Travel Holdings, said that while some agents are dubious, they are glad Carnival is listening to their feedback.
Crooks said he thinks one of the best moves Carnival has made for agents is introducing the “Great Vacation Guarantee,” a promise of a 110 percent refund as well as free transportation home if a guest decides they want to leave a cruise within the first 24 hours.
“I think the vacation guarantee is brilliant because what better way to close a sale?” he said. “If the customer’s on the fence, the agent can say, ‘They have the guarantee.’ ”
Carnival followed the guarantee with the “Moments that Matter” advertising blitz, which started airing on network and cable TV on Sept. 23. Jim Berra, the line’s chief marketing officer, said Carnival knew it needed to promote its cruises in a new way. Using footage contributed by past guests, he said, “was probably the most emotional and authentic way to express the brand and begin to reignite consumer interest.”