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Cruise Expert: Covid-19 Crisis Will Help Address Industry Challenges in the Long Run

As an independent cruise and all-inclusive resort brokerage service for leading U.S. and international incentive and motivational event companies and do-it-yourself customers since 2002, Shari Wallack’s Buy the Sea service is at the front-lines of the Covid-19 impact on travel. She believes that despite the short-term damage, the crisis is creating new opportunities not only for 2021 business but also for the long term. 
Shari Wallack’s Buy the Sea has a unique role in the incentive travel and motivational event business: As the largest independent broker for cruise lines and all-inclusive resorts in the incentive business, her company provides expert cruise and site selection, contract negotiation, and logistical support to group buyers of cruises and all-inclusive resorts. Her model is to provide an unbiased, objective approach to procuring cruises or all-inclusive resorts that work for each client, based on its brand, culture, participants, and objectives. This focus on the customer, she believes, gives her company a level of objectivity that clients cannot get from the suppliers themselves, or from the sales organizations that represent them. “Our loyalty is to our clients or the incentive and motivational event companies that support their needs. The best part is that there is never a fee for our services."
While most of her company’s programs halted this year’s cruises or events, almost all moved to next year. She says that the cruise lines, after initial hesitation from some before the full extent of the pandemic became clear, were generally flexible on contract postponements. She does not hazard a guess when the cruise industry will begin operations and hopes it will be by the end of 2020. “I do not believe that the cruise industry can successfully get back to previous levels until people feel completely safe.” 
Despite the current challenges, she believes long-term good can come from the crisis. “This is an opportunity for the cruise industry to address not only the level of safety needed in the new era of Covid-19, but also the norovirus problem. Many of the cruise lines will be now be installing the highest technology filtration systems and using the latest disinfection protocols and new dining and seating procedures that will likely significantly address the norovirus issue as well. The ships will not sail again until there are effective onboard isolation measures and a guarantee that the ill and all others can safely disembark.” She believes all reputable cruise businesses will go beyond C.D.C. (Center for Disease Control) guidelines. “Everybody has to rethink their protocols to make sailing safer.” 
On the positive side, “The one thing that this crisis has made even more clear, people love to travel. They may change some of their habits because of this crisis but those who love to travel are eager to resume their adventures as soon as they feel safe. That is often a very individual decision,” she adds. “Many of those who really want to travel will want to do so but perhaps not in large groups.” As a result, her company is focusing on three key services:
1) Individual travel certificates. Buy the Sea has created an individual travel experience for Playa Resorts, the owners of Hyatt Ziva and Zilara properties in Cancun, Vallarta, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, in conjunction with Amstar, a DMC (destination management company.) “For one set rate, clients can offer their winners a stay at any of these all-inclusive properties with few black-out periods and no expiration date. They are simple to purchase and deliver. The properties offer a very solid 4 ½ star experience in the right price point.” 
2) All-inclusive resorts for small groups. She believes this category of property is of particular appeal now to groups large enough to effectively take over the property. “Some of these properties are small enough that a mid-size group can have the entire resort to itself and make sure that all daily safety and staff protocols are closely followed. We are seeing situations in which a hotel might be willing to give up the entire resort to a group under circumstances it might not have done in the past.” The all-inclusive option, she says, is especially attractive because most of these resorts have multiple dining options so the group doesn’t have to leave the property.” 
3) Small ship charters. “People love small ship charters, and there are options for groups of as little as 50 people. They enable you to completely control the environment, even to the point of ensuring that the crew is happy to stay onboard during the entire voyage. Under these circumstances, you can control the environment to almost any level of specification.” 

Mapping the Future

Wallack doesn’t pretend to predict the short-term future but remains optimistic for the long term. In addition to believing that the crisis is not only causing a pent-up desire for safe getaways, she believes her company’s positioning as an objective advocate and support company for its clients give Buy the Sea unique advantages. "A mistake corporate clients make is basing their incentive travel buying decisions on a compelling ad or a presentation and failing to dig down to see if it's a proper fit for their program. Particularly under the current circumstances, we believe organizations can benefit from a trusted consultant. We assist planners in selecting a ship or a resort of the right size, ambiance, and price point.” 
In addition, Buy the Sea’s business model, Wallack believes, makes her an effective ally for her incentive and motivational event and do-it-yourself clients that can benefit from her organization’s support with pre-event and on-site event logistics. With many organizations now short-staffed, she says her company’s team of six highly experienced, multi-lingual and multi-cultural event professionals can help provide personnel as needed either before the event or on-site.
For More Information
Shari Wallack
Buy the Sea
Tel. 954-907-7327

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