Interviewing: Ron Gulasky, Associate Vice President, North America National Accounts & Trade Associations – Celebrity Cruises
Interview By: Joanie Ogg CTC, MCC, Co-Owner – Travel Professional NEWS
I recently had the opportunity to chat with our good friend Ron Gulasky with Celebrity Cruises and he shares some terrific insight and thoughtful perspective on cruising post pandemic. It is rather a brave new world and we all need to be a prepared and ready when cruising is back and flourishing.
Can you give us a brief update as to what the current Celebrity plans are to begin cruising again and anything else you feel our travel professional readers should know about?
What’s amazing is myself and most of our senior leadership team are so much busier now than when our ships are actually sailing with guests which is so hard to comprehend! While our fleet is idle right now, we have been developing an incredibly “comprehensive and multifaceted program” to address the public health challenges posed by Covid-19, such as “enhanced screening, upgraded cleaning, disinfection protocols and plans for social distancing.” In saying all that we absolutely will execute on all this with the full realization we don’t want to interrupt the guests most amazing vacation ever on Celebrity Cruises.
CLIA and its cruise line members have started to build an entirely new health-work plan to keep the safety of guests as the number one priority. This is sure to be a question asked by their clients and top of mind for many looking to cruise post-pandemic. Cruise Can you share some of plans being put together by Celebrity Cruises on this front?
CLIA received the plans from most of the cruise lines and submitted them to the CDC and now we are all going back and forth with the CDC individually to determine the standards so we can be cleared to sail again. We saw the same news coverage both in the press and on TV as you all did and know this is an incredible conversation we need to turn around.
We need consumers to see the reality like the veteran cruisers already know in how clean and safe cruise ships are – especially compared to hotels and all-inclusive resorts. It’s the first to cruise segment that will take a lot more time and energy to convince. Once the CDC and government announce we are good to go and recommend ocean cruise sailing again – then CLIA & the cruise lines will shout the approval and the individual protocols out to all consumers and trade using the biggest megaphones ever made! While many cruise lines may be looking to get a passing grade “C”… Celebrity wants to get an A+ so you can put our report card on your office refrigerators with pride!
Travel Professionals have been dealing with a rash of cancellations and hopefully many re-bookings. They are on the front-lines right now and need all the support they can get from their cruise and travel supplier partners. What has Celebrity been doing to help support them during these challenging times?
Celebrity, as part of the RCL Cares Project with our sister brands was the only cruise umbrella company providing extra support for the agencies, advisors and ICs. We trained all our sales force and hired an outside legal team to assist and help direct the travel community on how best to get a loan or get government assistance. And a shout out to ASTA & ACTA, they are absolutely amazing and if an agency or advisor isn’t a member yet then join. What they have done for the travel community is simply amazing and deserve big kudos.
We love the trade and wanted to do our part as best we could to keep them healthy and surviving. Also, we flexed on so many policies for FIT and groups and pay commission on the cancelled bookings and the ones with the 125% Future Cruise Certificates. There is no policy we didn’t tweak to better support the advisors in getting their cash flow going and future revenue stream solidified. We even made our certificates transferable to give even more opportunity for an advisor to keep a cruise booking.
Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on how best to deal with the “cancellation” conversation with a client?
One thing we highly recommend right now is to make sure the advisors always asks “Why” when someone wants to do a refund instead of use an FCC. Without asking “why” and just deferring, they are defaulting to losing a sale when in reality in asking – and finding out the answer – they could be leading to a sale and know what they need to overcome.
An example we are hearing more and more is that the person is asking for a refund because they are upset with that specific cruise line…………not because they don’t want to cruise. If the advisor asks and finds that out – it opens the door for them to note, ok that is the cruise line you don’t want to take – may I tell you about another one you probably would love and they aren’t in the media or behaving like the one you are now upset with. If the consumer says not now – then the advisor says ok, I will bounce back with a more information about other choices in a few weeks. If the consumer is listening – then they can for example sell them on Celebrity Cruises instead of the other premium brands they may be upset about after seeing news coverage on them for example?
I know it sounds basic – but the reality is most advisors are guessing or not even wondering why and just process a refund and not have the ability to book a potential cruise!
In these unprecedented times, we all learn a great deal about ourselves both personally and professionally. Can you share some things that you have learned through this current pandemic either personally and professionally?
Wow – interesting question. I knew I worked for a great company – but now I really really know I do. More than ever I realized how much Celebrity senior management respects and cares about their employees. From Lisa Lutoff Perlo our President down it’s been an incredible virtual group hug. I also think being at home and in more control of the interruptions that happen in a work day (not being pulled into attend meetings, people stopping by the office to chat or whatever), I had time to take some pauses through the day at home and realize how much I am allowed to contribute and be heard by my senior management team. Our senior team really listens to the trade and their employees and I absolute love knowing we do what’s right.
On a personal note, I realized that having two daughters in the house who can’t leave the house for months due to the South Florida stay at home situation can make a Dad so happy! My oldest daughter a Penn State Freshman is home and I won more time with her since she had to leave college, and my youngest is a big-time volleyball player who lets me practice in the driveway with her. So, some wonderful things like that happened during this tough time too.
Are there any unique marketing messages you feel they could share to keep cruising top of mind for future vacation planning?
Marketing is an essential key in any business and even more so with small businesses with limited capital to brand themselves and be discovered. Staying authentic with your messaging, understanding the relevancy of your timing and leading someone to action is the secret sauce to marketing. Leading someone to take action is what’s needed. At Celebrity, our message, in whatever words fits you and your business, should simply be: “We’re here. Who’s ready to travel?” Don’t be Eeyore all sad and gloomy, be upbeat and positive – don’t let your words or actions be the reason a customer doesn’t book a cruise – bring them up and be the reason they do book a cruise!
Thank you for your time and for your passionate and very thoughtful insight with our readers. Do you have any final thoughts and words of inspiration you can share with our travel agent warriors out there that have been in the trenches handling the operational and future sales side of this travel shutdown?
Thank you so very much and keep staying strong and being amazing – let’s pray nothing will ever be like this in our lifetimes or even our children’s lifetimes again. Now more than ever your clients and actually the world “gets it” – travel advisors are amazing and you should never book travel without one. Fixing problems, calling in favors from their supplier partners, knowing more than someone can ever find on the internet – travel advisors are the bomb! And for cruise and Celebrity Cruise in particular we see the momentum shifting and are getting nice bookings for Q4 Caribbean and for ALL products in 2021.
Please rest assured we know there are two things consumers need done to be sure to book through you; #1 we instill confidence they will be safe & secure w/us on a cruise and #2 we give an extra incentive to book with you. We are close to sharing both with you and can’t wait to see the incredible results once we do. Celebrity Cruises thanks you so very much for your partnership and friendship and we are stronger together.