The lively piano bar aboard the Carnival Splendor
In the past, solo cruisers were lumped into two categories—party-hearty 20-somethings or very mature clients in their 70s and 80s. Those groups are still cruising, but lately agents are booking professional singles aged 30 to 60 on cruise trips.
What’s the art of closing the deal? Most importantly, forget assumptions and understand what your clients want. “People assume all singles are looking for love onboard, and that is not always the case,” says Chris Parker, vice president, SinglesCruise.com. “Some cruisers are definitely looking to meet someone special, but many singles just love to travel and want to meet others who share their passion for travel and adventure.”
Group Cruises for Single Clients: Multiple agencies provide singles group sailings, among them SinglesCruise.com, Singles Travel International, Cruising ForLove.com and others. Operators often pay agents 10 percent commission, but check with each operator for individual policies.
Singles Travel International has paid 10 percent agent commissions for many years. “We even have an electronic Partner Program where agents add our banner to their site for free and track bookings forever,” says Tammy Weiler, president, Singles Travel International. “Once [agents] have a client book with Singles Travel International, as a result of clicking through from the [agency’s] own website, they are linked to that agent indefinitely and we pay the agent whether the client books with them or directly with us…We honor the relationships and make sure that agents are rewarded for the referral.”
Singles group amenities often include the services of an onboard tour host, social mixers and special activities. Guests often receive a wristband or necklace so they’re easily identifiable to other group members.
But most lines offer only double-occupancy cabins. That means a solo cruiser must pay not only his or her own fare but also all or a part of the second-berth fare—a single supplement—to reside in that double-occupancy cabin. As a result, singles group operators often offer a roommate matching service for guests wishing to share and avoid the supplement.
Cruise lines also may assist. For example, a Holland America Line guest who asks to be matched with another non-smoking guest of the same sex in a stateroom may book and pay the one fare. Even if a partner is not found by HAL, the single guest will receive the cabin for just the one single fare. (Note: This discount does not apply to double-occupancy bookings if one of the booked passengers cancels.)
Still, “most [of my single clients] prefer not to be matched to a roommate,” says Margie Jordan, owner, ASAP Travel, Jacksonville, FL. “They opt to be in the stateroom by themselves.”
If your clients want a cabin all to themselves, they’ll essentially pay their own fare plus a supplement that could be equal to the second berth fare. More typically, though, singles get a 10 percent to 25 percent discount on that second-berth fare. This year, however, the deals are better.
Cruise lines such as MSC Cruises (MSC Orchestra shown) are increasingly offering deals on single supplements
Through May 31, MSC Cruises’ MSC Poesia offers five- and 10-night fall Caribbean sailings with singles booking in categories 1-11 paying for their own berth plus only 50 percent of the second-berth fare. Bruce Good, Seabourn Cruise Line’s director of corporate communications, says that on many 2009 Seabourn Odyssey trips, single occupants pay one berth fare plus a single supplement of 25 percent of the second.
Oceania Cruises is also offering single supplements that equate to only 25 percent of the second-berth fare for some European and winter cruises. Silversea Cruises charges a single supplement that’s as little as 10 percent of the second-berth fare on select voyages this year. Also on certain sailings this year, Regent Seven Seas Cruises is not charging any single supplement for singles sailing in Category D through H standard suites.
On the niche-line side, Cruise West reduced its single supplement by up to 30 percent on category A and AA cabins for certain Alaska and Pacific Northwest sailings. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises is among river lines waiving the single supplement for many 2009 departures including holiday market cruises; agents must book by May 31. And for bookings made by June 30, Hurtigruten is offering single occupancy at no additional charge for select summer Greenland expeditions.
Ships for Every Personality: Single cruise experiences definitely aren’t “one size fits all.” The art of creating a satisfied single traveler takes great care by the agent. If single travelers wish to mix with lots of people, peruse multiple bars and enjoy sizable activity options, a big ship such as those of Royal Caribbean with a diverse clientele may be a good fit.
Small ships, though, appeal to self-directed guests content to relax and meet others with common interests. Singles might feel lost in the crowd on big ships, notes Seabourn’s Good, who says his line provides a friendly and social atmosphere in which well-traveled guests (including couples) can take singles into their onboard circle of friends.
On Celebrity Cruises, solo travelers might gather for Wii games, while Crystal Cruises employs at least four gentlemen “Ambassador Hosts” on every cruise to dance with single women onboard; other lines also have such hosts.
When it comes to mixing and dining, “we always have social get-togethers and breakfasts for solo travelers, and the maitre d’ is always happy to mix tables in the open-seating restaurants to ensure that single travelers do not dine alone unless they wish to,” notes Andrew Poulton, Regent Seven Seas’ director of corporate communications.
This year, agents have new opportunities for pitching and landing single cruise clients. The art to making the sale is to start searching your database, asking existing clients for referrals and matching up singles with the right cruise for their personality and budget.
Singles Cruising Trends
Reunion Cruises: Agents should seek out past single cruisers who are still single and ask if they have kept in touch with any guests from past cruises. Suggest a reunion cruise. Chris Parker, VP of SinglesCruise.com, says many of his firm’s solo cruise clients are planning “reunion cruises” with other single friends met on previous cruises.
Short Cruises: Don’t just think seven nights or more. Travel agent Ann Rotman of Escapade Cruises & Tours, which operates CruisingforLove.com, says, “Due to the economy, [singles] are probably going to be taking the shorter cruises from three to six days.”