HAL Group’s Stein Kruse on Supporting Trade Partners & Engaging Millenials

Cruise Week

There’s not much that is static in the travel industry, but Holland America Group CEO Stein Kruse says one thing hasn’t changed for him in more than 20 years – his belief in the travel trade as a key distribution partner.

I don’t think I’ve ever wavered on my views,” Kruse told Cruise Week.

“The distribution system that we have, whether it’s North America or elsewhere, is the most important vehicle that we can use for selling our products. So we are going to continue to support our trade partners.
“We want our trade partners to succeed, because through their success we will continue to expand our business. They are out there talking to the public as ambassadors of our products. So the distribution system is incredibly important to us.”

On other fronts, however, Kruse says things are changing quickly.

“We have a new generation of travellers coming in, millennials, who have a completely different way of thinking in terms of how they go about planning and how they purchase.”
To learn more about this nascent group, Kruse and other Carnival brand presidents spent 2 days in San Francisco this summer meeting with some of the leading tech companies in the world.
“Part of those meetings were for us to better understand what technology we should invest in and what type of products we need to have in order to continue to serve up our brands in a meaningful way to the travellers of today and of the future.
“Millennials, of course, are going to be incredibly important. They are coming into increasing purchasing power, so we need to understand how they want to be communicated with, how they want their choices served up, and so forth.”
Kruse says it’s critical for retailers to conduct similar diligence, and to recruit new staff from millennial ranks.

“If the distribution system can tap into that and do that in a meaningful way, I’d love to continue to grow the distribution system beyond where it is today, and see more people come in, become travel sellers, and continue to perpetuate it.”

Judging from major retail conferences, Cruise Week says the retail side of the business is on it.

Every major retail event they have attended this year has contained sessions featuring millennial topics. And retail interest is strong.

For instance, when Nexion held its conference on Norwegian Getaway, a workshop on tapping into the millennial market and motivating that segment to purchase had to be moved to a larger venue.    

Observes Rick Zimmerman, President & CEO of KHM Travel Group, “We’re seeing that millennials are more receptive to travel agent usage than boomers, more receptive than Gen X.”
Millennials, he says, like to talk to experts. “But they want to check you out. They want to see what the Internet says about you and the about the way you respond to people.”
Zimmerman says every age group is different. “We have people heading into retirement that are getting into the business. We have Gen X-ers who are looking to supplement that income [from a 1st job] and travel. But millennials have the innovative ideas. They aren't stuck with old marketing ways. Some of their concepts are absolutely remarkable.”

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