Bernard Carter, cruise, cruising, cruise line, ships, renovation, Oceania Cruises,

Oceania Cruises: ‘We’re taking our ships to another level’

Oceania Cruises has announced big plans for the next step in its evolution with the OceaniaNEXT initiative, which will begin with a $100million refurbishment of the line’s four 684-guest ships, Regatta, Insignia, Sirena, and Nautica.

Bernard Carter, SVP and managing director at Oceania Cruises, talks to Cruise Trade News about how the project represents the next stage of the company’s journey, and how it is improving relationships with agents.

When did the OceaniaNEXT programme first emerge?

Things are obviously discussed on an ongoing basis at the very highest level.

A lot of thought has gone into this. We’ve had focus groups over the years, reaching out to guests to seek their feedback. It’s been in the planning for quite a while.

Oceania is on a journey, and we’re taking our guests with us, so we are looking at refreshing and rejuvenating what we’re doing and what we have as a brand.

The refurbishment of the ships is just one facet of the OceaniaNEXT programme.

Will passengers notice the difference right away?

They’ll notice the core elements are still there, and the service level from our onboard staff– which is our biggest selling point.

What we are doing is transforming an English country hotel into a sleek, elegant private members’ club. Our guests are discerning travellers – 55-75 years old – active mind, active body, who appreciate value and comfort.

People love the feel of coming home to the ship from their day away, and that feeling is created by the crew.

I was blown away when I saw the renderings. It isn’t just modernisation for modernisation’s sake. Rather, it’s about adding a more modern touch to the sleek elegance of the way we do things.

What else is part of the offering?

We have improvements for our consumer contacts and relations, introducing more touchpoints with our guests, particularly once they have made the booking.

For the trade, we have the newly launched Travel Partnership Hub, which gives us a totally connected way of communicating with our travel partners, not just those who we work with regularly, but also those who would like to sell Oceania cruises but are not quite sure how.

What we can do, for example, through our Trade Facebook page and our various digital portals, is provide them with the tools they need to sell the product.

What’s the response been to the hub?

Very positive. We already have people claiming on their rewards. The fact that we have everything in one place has been very well received.

We’re looking at how we develop it further and how we keep it live, fresh and relevant. That’s the biggest thing for us.

Will that be a challenge?

Not really. For us, the great thing is that people recognise a great product and opportunity. You stay relevant by delivering a top quality service and product. We, as a brand, do exactly that.

We’re in our strongest position ever. For the past year and a half we have focused more than ever on our brand message – food, destinations, quality of service – which is embedded in the Oceania experience, and also within our guests who travel with us.

We don’t want to be everything to everybody. But, to the audience we reach out to, we know our core attributes remain as solid as they ever were, and this programme will enhance them.

When will we see some of these changes take place?

We have our new website coming in Q4 2018, complete with a much more interactive platform. The travel agent centre will be fluid and dynamic with the booking journey being less linear and more like a hexagon, allowing agents to move seamlessly between sections at will.

Everything that is happening within OceaniaNEXT is going to create a lot of interest.

We are going to make sure our travel partners are armed with all of the information. We will hold OceaniaNEXT webinars to introduce the programme and all of the new aspects we are rolling out.

You mentioned the booking system becoming more fluid – the hexagon. Is that something that came about after discussions with agents?

It’s a combination [of talking to agents and talking in-house]. If you look at old fashioned booking systems, we’re a lot further ahead than we used to be. However, that said, historically the systems are linear – you start from point A, and you can’t go from C to A, for example.

The thought process of customers is more dynamic, as are the choices, so we need to offer an equally dynamic system.

Some of our guests who have done more than 60 cruises with us. It shows that the people we reach out to appreciate what we do. But, we know that nothing ever stands still and the world moves on.

We don’t want to become super high tech, edgy and too far out there. Instead, we offer something that is modern, fresh and light and airy.

We’ve got a brochure in the works to showcase the numerous enhancements. When we promote the sailings for summer 2020 we will be featuring the new accommodation. This is a very exciting time for us.

I see opportunities [here]. Every challenge is effectively an opportunity waiting to happen. We are taking our guests on a journey and we’re going to attract new guests.

I think this design appeals to both our existing and our future guests. I really think we’ve taken it to another level.

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