The Interview: Carnival Cruise Line UK sales boss champions value of travel agents

Iain Baillie talks to Harry Kemble about the line’s new campaign and second wave of Fun Ambassadors

Iain Baillie is reluctant to take the plaudits for coming up with Carnival’s Fun Ambassadors campaign, which sees agents give their feedback in exchange for some pretty amazing perks.

Carnival Cruise Line’s UK vice-president of international sales says credit should go to his trade sales team, which collectively came up with the idea for the campaign, now in its second year.

Fun Ambassadors was launched in late 2018 to help drive engagement with the line’s Loyalty Rocks Club trade programme. To apply to be one of the eight ambassadors for the first year, 2019, agents were asked to outline what was fun about being a agent, what they would bring to the role and what suggestions they would make to improve the scheme.

The eight agents appointed as Fun Ambassadors came up with 40 ideas on how to improve the line’s relationship with the trade, covering rewards, training and the line’s booking engine, GoCCL. In return, they were treated to all-expenses-paid trips to Miami and Ibiza, and received double reward points on all bookings.

Baillie says about 90% of the ideas put forward have been implemented and progress reports are given at Fun Ambassador board meetings hosted by the line three times a year.

For 2020, Carnival has expanded the campaign and appointed 12 ambassadors, after receiving a lot of applications (Travel Weekly, December 5). In keeping with the fun theme, the successful applicants were invited to a day out at trampoline park Flip Out in east London last month.

As well as a trip to Ibiza in June, they will also be welcomed on board upcoming new ship Mardi Gras after it enters service in August and sails into Southampton, and will be hosted at the 2020 Clia Conference.

“Setting up Fun Ambassadors is one of the most important things we’ve done,” Baillie says. “We want to continue to remain relevant for the trade and be agent-centric. The only way of doing that is coming up with forward-thinking initiatives.”

Asked if the programme could expand again, Baillie says there is “no ceiling”, adding: “If the quality [of applications] continues, then we cannot put a number on it.”

The 2020 Fun Ambassadors will carry out a “health check” on what their predecessors suggested before switching their focus to the line’s educational programme and how that could improve, according to Baillie.

Christine Duffy, the line’s president since 2015, flew over from Carnival’s Miami headquarters for a 24-hour visit earlier this month to host a dinner for agents and thank them for their support.

Ship visits

With the addition of Mardi Gras, the Carnival fleet will grow to 28 ships. Until now, opportunities to see a Carnival ship in the UK have been few and far between. Agents might be more used to seeing Carnival’s sister brands P&O Cruises and Cunard, but Baillie believes he has created more opportunities.

In the past, feedback from the trade has often centred on this, but Baillie says: “We have got a real opportunity. Next year is our biggest fam trip programme to date.

“With the inclusion of Mardi Gras, 1,000 agents will experience Carnival Cruise Line one way or another.”

About 480 UK agents will see Mardi Gras when it sails from Copenhagen on August 31 via Southampton to New York.

A further 500 UK agents will be welcomed on 18 ship visits and 10 fam trips throughout the year.

These will take place on Carnival Radiance and Carnival Legend, both of which are based in Europe and operate sailings from Barcelona, Venice and Dover.

Carnival Legend’s Dover departure will be the first Carnival ship to dock at a UK port for seven years. In 2021, Carnival Legend will have nine ex-UK departures from Dover.

New campaign

Eager to make the most of having Carnival ships in the UK, Baillie and his team have set up a new campaign, Why Use A Travel Agent (Wuata), designed to dispel myths surrounding agents.

Clia Global research carried out earlier this year, in partnership with Carnival, showed 75% of cruise passengers book through an agent.

But Baillie says: “We wondered what was happening with that [other] 25%. Why are they not using a travel agent?

“Let’s see if we can get consumers who don’t currently use an agent to start using one.”

The research has prompted Carnival to launch a nationwide competition through Travel Weekly to find an agency business that can help banish some of the myths uncovered in the research, including a belief that holidays are more expensive when booked through a travel agent.

Carnival will host a party at a venue as near as possible to the winning agency with Love Island star Dr Alex George, and invite members of the public to attend.

“We want to make sure this party is up in lights and it is saying to those consumers who never use a travel agent to start booking with one,” Baillie says.

“This will get the message out there and is great publicity for the agency to promote its business.”

A family cruise on Carnival will be given away on the night, through a prize draw, which will be promoted by Dr Alex to his 1.5 million followers on social media.

The winning agency will book the cruise and receive commission from Carnival. Dr Alex and his girlfriend Amelia Bath will also join the trip.

Globes hopes

For the first time, Carnival Cruise Line has been nominated for three Travel Weekly Globe Travel Awards at the January 2020 event: Best Mainstream Cruise Company, Best Trade Sales Team and Best Trade‑Friendly Brand.

Carnival has never won a Globe, but Baillie hopes that Wuata, Loyalty Rocks Club and the ongoing success of Fun Ambassadors will help the line bag its first one on January 16.

“We’re optimistic and have high hopes,” Baillie says.

“But just to be considered for three awards is music to our ears.

“We hope it’s come about because of our forward-thinking initiatives.”

Quick fire

Where is home?
A 16th-century cottage in a sleepy village in Mid Sussex.

The last book you read?
Tsunami Kids by the Gandy Brothers.

Favourite holiday destination?
Southern Italy, specifically Positano on the Amalfi Coast – it holds a place in my heart.

What do you enjoy doing while on holiday?
Self-drive – mopeds or cars – to get off the beaten track. Trying out new restaurants and the local food.

Any hobbies?
Gardening, walks and cooking.

What has been your best experience working in travel?
Travelling the world, meeting people from different countries.

Which one thing about the industry would you change?
Raise more awareness of how travel agents add amazing service and value to consumers.

What inspired you to work in travel?
I had travelled a bit before starting work and decided I wanted to see more of the world while working.

Which three people in travel would you invite to a dinner party?
Arnold Donald, Christine Duffy and Adolfo Perez – all incredibly inspiring individuals who I have learnt a great deal from throughout my career.

Share article

View Comments

Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.