Holland America’s Partnerships Demonstrate New Direction

Cruise Week

Usually the type of announcements made by Holland America involving new partnerships with AFAR Media and UTrip don’t merit a big press event in NYC. But they did this past October because HAL had a point to make – under the recent leadership of Orlando Ashford the formerly tradition-focused line is embracing change.
Carnival Corp. did a major brand analysis study to help further differentiate its brands and define clearer “swim lanes.” Holland America’s points of differentiation were identified as classic style and enriching journeys - meaning the manner in which it delivers the 
experience to guests, including immersive cultural experiences and unique itineraries.
The partnership with travel magazine AFAR to create comprehensive destination guides on HAL’s website and with Utrip for customizable web itinerary planning are both innovative and supportive of HAL’s strongpoints, according to Ashford.

“There are lots of things that are classic about Holland America Line: The mid-sized ships, the blue hull, our service culture, the wrap-around teak decks and a number of things that in a list would be too long to mention.”

But he quickly adds: “On the flip side, enriching journeys is really the core of our message today. We spent more than a year undergoing extensive research and effort to help us further understand our customers and our guests, what they like about cruising with us, how we are different than other cruise lines, and how we can make their travel experience better as well as attracting new customers.”
The conclusion? “Our guests are destination-driven and prioritize cultural experiences when they travel. To our guests, a Holland America cruise is much more than the cruise itself. They are passionate about travel. So the dreaming and planning are all part of the experience.”
Enter AFAR Media. “While we know that we offer our guests a lot of destination information already, we also know through research that 3rd party content is viewed as more credible and authentic than what a particular company may offer,” Ashford says.

In fact, he says, a recent Nielsen study found expert content to be 88% more effective than brand content in delivering familiarity, affinity and consideration.

AFAR, explains Ashford, is a multimedia platform company that caters to experiential travel.    

“AFAR’s content is gathered from around the globe. Through our collaboration, Holland America Line will deliver localized, curated content from AFAR via our website to help cruisers dream, plan, choose and prepare for the next perfect vacation.”
Specifically, Holland America goes to more than 400 unique ports, and so the partnership with AFAR will help it to build destination guides for each of them.
“These comprehensive new guides will provide guests and travel partners with access to some of the most comprehensive information accessible to travellers in the cruise industry,” he says.
AFAR provides traveller recommendations for up to 20 top attractions, restaurants and shopping experiences in each destination. HAL anticipates the 1st destination guides to be on its website by the end of this month, with more rolling out through 2016.

So where does Utrip come into play? “We know from research that the most meaningful travel experiences come from a trip that is personalized. That is the world we are moving into - how do we make everything personal to your own individual tastes and interests?” responds Ashford.
Utrip, he says, is a travel planning software platform that makes it easy for travellers to create their trip.
“Utrip’s predictive technology works on a vast travel database that has been curated by local experts and now will be integrated into our website to give our guests the most comprehensive and interactive personalized planning tool in the cruise industry,” says Ashford.
“Building on all of the destination guide content provided by AFAR, cruisers will be able to select desired ports of call, highlights and activities in port and then will receive customized recommendations on their cruise itineraries, excursions and local highlights. It simplifies the decision-making process and narrows the options to the sailings and activities that are most interesting to the cruisers,” Ashford adds.

Ashford and his HAL team believe the customization of the Utrip experience and the content provided by AFAR are in line with how today’s traveller approaches travel. The new relationships are a signal of the many changes sure to come during Ashford’s tenure.

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