CLIA’s chairman Adam Goldstein set the tone for the Cruise3Sixty event on Friday, placing six trends at the forefront of cruising’s future.
For 2015 and beyond, Goldstein listed a range of areas where agents should direct their attention to, in order to better sell and work the cruise product.
“We expect to hit 23 million cruisers this year,” Goldstein said. “We’re going to be bigger than last year, and better than last year.”
The trends Goldstein raised as key to cruising’s ballooning future included:
- Size doesn’t matter
- Speciality cruising continues to thrive
- Caribbean is Queen
- Destination cruising proving strong
- Travel agents are key influencers
- Passengers are at the helm
“22 new ships are set to sail in 2015, with 16 of those river cruises,” Goldstein said.
While in the longer term future, ocean ships continue to be built, ships such as Avalon Waterways’ Avalon Myanmar and CroisiEurope’s Loire Princesse are experiencing a renaissance in the smaller river ship side of the cruise industry.
Next on the list was the reign of the Caribbean region, whose percentage of available bed days sat at 36%, with Mediterranean coming in second down at 20%.
This means that while diverse destinations are more important than ever, Caribbean is still the top place cruisers want to be.
Europe sans the Mediterranean was next on the bucket list, followed by Australasia, Alaska, South America, and everything else.
“There are over 1000 locations for cruising,” Goldstein remarked, on the topic of destination cruising.
“There are six locations in Iceland – I didn’t even know there were six places to cruise in Iceland!”
But destination cruising is back with a vengeance, taking over as a major influencer in choosing cruises.
“The goal is to keep it fresh, and keep an eye on new destinations,” P&O Cruises’ outgoing senior vice president Tammy Marshall said.
“We’re now taking our cruisers to Papua New Guinea just to stretch the appeal, because people who may never consider cruising might consider it due to the destinations you take them to.”
And of course, the travel agent remains king in the world of cruise sales, with 80% of cruise transactions coming through travel agents.
Norwegian Cruise Lines’ executive VP of sales, Andy Stuart, says agents are a critical factor in cruise sales, adding that even within families and groups, there are a number of audiences to satisfy, and this is the agent’s job.
“There is no one customer that you can talk about in a general sense,” Stuart said.
“The need for a travel agent is increasing, because it’s hard to shop online, and it’s hard to figure out who’s who and what’s what.
“It’s more important than ever now to have agents to help customers navigate the choices, and avoid the risk of letting them go online alone, then getting confused and giving up.”
Passengers are also at the helm of trends in cruising, driving the way cruise lines adapt and change to best suit their customers.
“The cruise lines are trying to figure out how to help keep you connected,” Goldstein said, citing technology as a major driver in passenger satisfaction.
Goldstein said that looking closely at what passengers ask for, he sees connectivity and technology, group travel, celebration travel, themed cruises and foodcations as key to pleasing passengers in 2015.
“More and more customers are looking for things that are more experiential,” he said. “And we’re now looking at the incredible role that the food industry plays in cruising too.”
But it’s still the agents that are driving the cruise trends of the future, as they have the biggest hand in prompting customers to book.
“It’s about understanding the product and telling the story in a way that gets the customer excited,” Andy Stuart said.
Phil Hoffman Travel’s CEO and director Peter Willliams also commented on this trend in a Cruise3Sixty panel, saying that agent training is critical.
“There is no cookie-cutter approach to training travel agents,” Williams said.
“But if you get the right person, the right destination, and the right ship, you’ve got a client for life.”