Bookings spike: Celebrity Cruises woos travel agents

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A relatively minor investment in champagne, nail polish and the occasional deep-tissue massage appears to be revving up Celebrity Cruises' bookings.

In its second year of its "Treated Famously" road show, Celebrity will bring 2,500 travel agents from around the country to local luxury hotels where they will be served by white-gloved butlers, wined, dined, massaged and manicured. The idea behind this elaborate sampling program is to sufficiently wow agents with the Celebrity experience so that they will spread the gospel to undecided customers.

Each 200-person event costs about $25,000-the amount a couple could lay out for two weeks of super-luxury cruising. Considering bookings from agencies feted last year rose and most cruises are booked through travel agents, agents are a highly desirable group for marketers trying to distinguish themselves in the competitive $20 billion category. Celebrity ranks fifth in bookings after Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Holland America.

hope in the unseen

"The most effective promotion can sometimes be something the consumer never sees," said Beth Rice, senior VP of Arnold Brand Promotions, part of Havas' Arnold Worldwide, which handles Celebrity as well as sibling Royal Caribbean.

Celebrity's program rolled out at the end of 2002 in New York and San Francisco, and had 30 events across the country in 2003. This year, 14 larger events are on tap, Celebrity Senior VP-Sales and Marketing Steven Hancock said, and more cities are planned for next year. He declined to offer specifics on the initiative other than to say post-program bookings spiked, and though he said there might have been other contributing factors, the program "works exceedingly well."

Michael Driscoll, editor in chief of Cruise Week News, said that while all cruise bookings are increasing, Celebrity has been making strides among travel agents.

"Celebrity is a leading premium cruise line," he said, but because Carnival and Royal Caribbean are so dominant, "they can't get the word out to the consumer" like those competitive cruise lines can. "For them to succeed on the premium level, they have to get travel agents on their side, so this is a smart move."

contributing: rich thomaselli

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