Costa Crociere, known as Costa Cruises here, earlier this month celebrated the arrival from Fincantieri shipyards of the new $668 million, 114,500-ton Costa Fascinosa. The ship sailed May 7 from Venice to Koper, Slovenia, Trieste, Dubrovnik and back to Venice. At the christening, Costa Crociere President Gianni Onorato wasted no time in describing the company's dual emotions as a result of the tragedy of the Costa Concordia wreck off the coast of the Italian island of Giglia in January and the low-key launch of its newest ship. We spoke with Onorato about the new ship and what Costa has been doing following the Costa Concordia incident.
How has Costa addressed the Costa Concordia situation? Of course, we won’t forget the victims and we continue to assist families and cover expenses. We moved 40,000 passengers to other cruises while continuing to cooperate with the Italian judiciary and prosecutor’s offices in various lawsuits. The final stage involves removal of the vessel, while ensuring the environment and cleaning up the seabed. As for safety, in some cases our standards are now harder than SOLAS (Safety of Live at Sea) regulations.
Specifically, what are the changes in safety procedures that Costa has made after Concordia? Safety is our top priority. The focus is on managing an emergency and implementing concrete innovations. We train and re-train our officers at a special week-long navigational school in Almere, The Netherlands, established in 2009. Costa will adopt the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) policy requiring great discussion in the decision-making process during the passenger briefing before departure and during other maneuvers requiring special navigation supervision.
What are the specific steps you’ve taken to improve onboard safety? Our seven major focus points are: 1) to make each guest aware of the ship’s emergency procedures before sailing; 2) to ensure an officer in uniform is clearly identifiable during safety training; 3) guests must present an emergency drill card -- presented at registration -- to a crew member identifying the guest as being present. Follow-up sessions are offered for those who miss; 4) monitoring devices have been installed in most areas; 5) monitoring is in real time; 6) ship navigation decision-making is no longer limited to the captain, but a joint effort with input from other officers dealing with the safety of the route plane and actual position of each vessel; and 7) a new bridge accessibility program is in place, limited to those with operational or operationally related functions. Our safety measures also are viewable on our website at www.costa.com.
How has the Concordia tragedy impacted your marketing? We have a brand new brochure and a simpler new system of selling that is no longer dictated by season. With a new pricing model, there are now four categories of cabins: Classic, Premium, Samsara (spa) and Suites, and all include Club Costa benefits of some sort. Pronto Prices offer best available prices at the time of advance booking. We are also currently offering a $499 per person per week rate in the Western Med.
How should U.S. travel agents be selling Costa today? North Americans are looking for more than a just a cruise product. They want a true Italian product, how people expect Italy to be. Costa offers the complete Italian experience, and has kept improving its product throughout the line’s 60-plus-year history.
What is Costa’s best-selling product for summer 2012? Longer Mediterranean cruises are very popular this year. But shorter itineraries are also selling well. Ninety-eight percent of our guests say they are “very satisfied.” Costa’s more than 2,200 itineraries have their own appeal and a new “Seven Days, Seven Beaches” has proven to be a favorite, offering seven island pearls of Kos, Somas, Smyrna, Mykonos, Santorin, Rhodes and Crete on Costa Atlantic. Among new ports is Khoper in Slovenia, which will be on 50 itineraries next year.
How are your bookings and rates for 2012? Costa’s bookings are strong. Our advertisements began again in March although sailings to South America and Asia have never decreased. Bookings are up double-digits, just under 25 percent.
Marcia Perkins is an outside writer and former president of the Society of American Travel Writers on assignment for TravelPulse.com.