Scott Knutson

Scott Knutson, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, North America for Costa Cruises
Scott Knutson can tell you that life is an adventure. He works in travel because he loves it. The value of an immersive experience on a cruise is worth every dollar.

Steve: What is your professional background?

Scott: My professional background is 30 years in the cruise business, 33 in the travel business. My first real job out of college, I worked for United Airlines. Actually - my first job, I worked for a motor home manufacturer, in Elkhart, Indiana, Coachmen.

From there, I had an opportunity to go to United Airlines as a Sales Representative in Orlando. They then sent me to California. I had Tahoe and Fresno Valley. About three years into that, the carnival came to town, Carnival Cruise Lines. In 1988, I joined them as a Business Development Manager for Northern California. Then I moved over to the Midwest, back home, as a Regional Vice President. Finally, down to the South East, in Orlando as Regional VP.

Then, just about 10 years ago, in June, I made the move to the sister brand, Costa Cruises. I kind of played musical chairs with executives from there and Carnival. I followed my then boss, Maurice Zarmati over to Costa to become VP of Sales in North America. That was almost 10 years ago.

Steve: What inspired you to choose this industry?

Scott: I always wanted to do something a little different. I didn’t want to be in a sedentary job. I remember my first job in high school, between sports and the weekend, I worked at a liquor store. Then I worked at a sports shop, because I didn’t want to work at fast food or any of that type of stuff.

We travelled quite a bit as kids, mostly by car. With seven kids, nine people in the family. I never took my first flight until I was 20 years old in college, on a Vegas trip that we won at a fraternity party. We would just hop in the car and just drive to Sanibel, from Chicago, and other places. I was always fascinated by travel, and always doing something different.

The nice thing about United, I was the golden child of the family, because my parents could fly on passes all year round. I remember, after I interviewed with Carnival, after ’88, I was heading back to Tahoe, I flew with United. I was offered the job, and I called my parents from Denver. I said, “I’ve got the offer from Carnival, the biggest cruise line in the world, a lot of fun, they’re very fun. Great future.” which I thought even more so than with the airlines at the time. “But, I don’t want you guys to lose your air travel benefits.” Then my dad says to me, “Wait a minute. We can cruise any time and you’re gonna love the job better? What’s the matter with you?” So, I made the move over to Carnival and never looked back. In 20 years, I’ve worked with some great people. We built that line up to be number one.

Steve: At any point in time, did you realize that this is what you wanted to do? No regrets past that point.

Scott: I was happy with United. I got to move out to California. As a Midwest kid, I loved California, I met my wife out there. She’s still putting up with me, 25, 26 years later.  I guess once you get into it, I don’t know what the Mafia feels like, one of those things is, you get it in your blood. I really can’t imagine doing anything else. It seems like it would be unfulfilling.

Steve: How has your professional experiences changed your perspective on tourism?

Scott: In the Carnival days, people would go on cruises and take these vacations. Some people were starting new families, meeting their future spouses, and as the saying goes, “they’d come home with a little souvenir, once in a while.” We started marriages, we saved marriages, we sometimes were there for somebody’s last trip with their family. All those things are important. You can have a product and a passion for something that enhances other people’s lives. I just think it’s something that’s hard to beat.

Steve: What are the benefits of working with a travel agent for a cruise?

Scott: For selling cruises?

Steve: Yes.

Scott: There are many. Our brand, here at Costa, almost 19 out of 20 cruises are sold through our travel partners. We’re an international brand. Even though we’re part of the Carnival corporation, everybody knows the red, white and blue. People don’t necessarily know our brand, we’re the biggest in Europe. But we’re far from that here. We play the stepchild here. The Carnival brand runs the Caribbean, the Princess and Holland have Alaska. We do our thing, we live in the Med(iterranean). We need travel partners to tell our story for us. We’re not large here, we feel that we don’t have marketing budgets. We certainly can’t be on TV and it’s difficult to get other marketing messages out.

About 90% of our marketing method comes through our travel partners, in the form of cooperative advertising. If people aren’t familiar with us, they look at these itineraries and these great rates, we count on our travel partners. We have them make them (the prospective client) feel more comfortable, ask a few more questions, and make that they’re putting their prospect or their client on the right products.

One of the things about Costa is that we’re an international brand. If clients are interested and excited about that fully immersive international experience, then we’re perfect. We’re probably the only one that’s 100% that way. If they’re more comfortable with an American Hotel though, they’re probably going to be more comfortable with one of our sister brands. When you go on board, we’re an uninterrupted international experience.

Let’s say that when you land in Rome, you spend a couple of days there, sightseeing. Then you get on a Costa ship and the experience continues. You feel that international experience, all the way through. We need our travel partners to help us articulate that.

Steve: What trends in the travel industry do you foresee in the near future? What about the long term?

Scott: I think more people are becoming a little more adventurous, and back to your question about how has it changed tourism and the world has gotten a lot smaller. Even though there are certain parts of the world, where we can’t go every year, and it changes the next year.

They want to collect experiences, instead of material possessions. We’re finding that people are looking for interactions, things they haven’t done before, that they’re not familiar with. Maybe that means in the Med(iterranean), Dubai, or Northern Europe, or South America. They like interaction with people from all those places around the world. You may sit down at a dinner, for a table of eight, and there’s a couple from Brazil, Spain, France and yourself.

I think travelers these days are looking for a broadening of their horizons, and for something they haven’t experienced. It’s not just all Caribbean anymore, although it’s a great place to start. They’re looking to be more than travelers and adventurers.

Steve: What has been your greatest accomplishment in your career?

Scott: That’s a tough one. When I had a territory in California, it was all about me. My results were all because of me. I was the driver of it. It was very individual. When I got into management, with a region and employees, everything changed. One of the things I treasure most was leading these teams and helping the sales force and the marketing team accomplish their goals. I was driving it, but I was letting them grow themselves. I'm proud of the people that have worked with me. We still have very strong relationships.

Steve: In the classic saying, “I wish I knew what I know now, when I was younger,” what are some things that you wish you had known ahead of time?

Scott: One of them I knew, but I just didn’t do it. I should have put the maximum away on my IRA and I’d be somewhere on an island right now. (laughing) I don’t know, that’s a difficult question. I don’t look back with any type of regret. I can’t say I would have gotten into the industry any sooner. I got in as fast as I could.

Steve: What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in travel?

Scott: Do it because it’s something you love, not just because it’s a job. You’ll never work a day in your life if you love it. It’s not all glamorous. We’ve had some tough lessons here. You’re selling travel, you’re selling dreams. But, you’ve also got goals, quotas, and budgets. That’s the other side of it, managing it. You want to make sure that if you get into this business, it’s because you love it. You love the experience that you’re providing for people. Because it also has its grinding time, just like any other profession.

Steve: What books, blogs, journals, websites, and other materials about the travel industry would you recommend?

Scott: The trade magazines are excellent. ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) does a good job of providing tips and tools for travel professionals, for both sides, retail and supplier. I think anything that really gets your attention, like medias in different fashion. I’m not much of a book reader, but, I love picking up a magazine on a flight, and I’ll pack it away because I’m still old fashioned like that. I like to read the actual piece and check out the ads. It’s all kind of an individual thing.

Steve: Last question, what are some fun facts about yourself?

Scott: I’m one of seven kids. A couple of us got into the travel business. One works for Virgin Airlines. Growing up with seven kids is just fantastic. I’ve got three brothers and three sisters. We travel to see each other. We all kind of got that bug.

I’m a huge Indiana University basketball fan. I would say Indiana University sports fan, but we usually don’t pay attention to sports until basketball season starts. They’re getting better. I was there in the Bobby Knight days, the heydays of ’79, ’81 championships, I still have that as my ringtone, the IU fight song.

I’ve moved nine times, all for career things. Six of those times with my wife and three kids. I guess we bought eight homes along the way. Just making our way to Florida. It’s been for my kids, because I think it’s helped them with social situations and how to deal with change. They’re in and out of college, and they thank me for it. Because it wasn’t easy at the time, but I think it was good for their character.