|David Walsh of CWCruises in Bradenton, FL, says his agency's cruise sales have never been better.|
In just two weeks, 2015 will be half over. What results have cruise selling agency owners and agents posted for the first half of the year? What cruise itineraries are hot, and what others are not?
Travel Agent put those questions to multiple travel agency owners and agents. Last week, we received feedback from 11 travel advisors from Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia and Washington. Here's their "take."
Robust Cruise Sales in 2015
Sales are booming for most of these agencies. Lucinda Belden, franchise owner, CruiseOne in Carrollton, TX, says her agency has posted a 19 percent increase in cruise sales thus far this year, compared to the same period last year. “And cruise pricing is adjusting to the improved economy which is contributing to the cruise sales so far this year,” she believes.
|Michael Consoli, Cruise Planners, Atlanta, GA, says "value adds" have bolstered cruise sales.|
Characterizing his agency's 30 percent increase in cruise sales this year as “amazing,” Michael Consoli, franchise owner, Cruise Planners, Atlanta, GA, cites several contributing factors: creative cruise line promotions; added value with amenities such as Celebrity’s “123 GO” promotion; cruise lines giving agents the tools to promote offers; and the lines’ stronger focus on putting the best discounts out early, such as with Royal Caribbean’s “Buy One, Get One-Half Off” sale.
Geoff Cox, supplier relations director for KHM Travel Group, a Vacation.com member agency in Brunswick, OH, reports his agency is having a record breaking year, and he says the cruise lines, especially Royal Caribbean, are providing additional support for agencies: “Our 2015 sales with several cruise lines are up over 35 percent.”
David Walsh, owner of CWCruises, an independent agency of Avoya Travel in Bradenton, FL, says sales for his agency have never been better. “In January, we acquired another agency and this contributed to a very strong start to the year,” Walsh says. “I have never been so busy with service to new, returning and ongoing clients, ever. In the first five to six months I was working with clients 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week.
Also reporting a significant improvement in sales year-over-year is John Gawne, independent vacation specialist, Cruises Inc., Virginia Beach, VA. His view?: “People who haven’t cruised in awhile are sailing again."
Debbie Sebastian, owner of a Travel Leaders franchise agency in Danville, KY, said her cruise sales this year are “up tremendously” over the same period a year ago. In fact, “we have already exceeded last year’s total sales and continue to add to them daily.”
|David and Cindy Jabbour Locke of Seize the Sea in South Florida sailed three times earlier this year to gain first-hand product knowledge.|
Last year was the best revenue year ever for Seize the Sea, an independent agency of Avoya Travel, in South Florida, which reached $6 million in sales. David Locke and Cindy Jabbour Locke own the agency.
So far this year? “Our agency has seen a lot of demand for cruise vacations throughout 2015 and we have been very busy,” emphasizes David Locke.
Cindy Jabbour Locke tells us that the agency made a strategic decision to explore new products in 2015. So the duo took three fact-finding trips at the start of the year to learn first-hand about several cruise brands and help match those experiences to what customers are seeking.
“We went to the Galapagos on Silversea and sailed on back-to-back river cruises on the Rhone River and the Danube with Tauck and Scenic Cruises,” says Jabbour Locke.
During their travels, the couple continued to service existing clients, but did not take new leads from Avoya or look for new business. “We can only imagine how 2015 sales might have been even better than they already are at this point if we had been taking new leads,” adds David Locke. “The traveling was an investment we chose to make in our business and it will pay off in the long run.”
Julie Harrington, CEO of a Travel Leaders agency in Richland, WA, is definitely seeing better cruise sales than last year and trendwise, “we have seen an upswing in multi-generational travel, incentive travel and group travel on the traditional cruise lines.”
That said, local economic factors, geography and many other elements can impact overall cruise sales. Plus, the year is only half over.
Jan Stanczak, owner of a Travel Leaders agency, O'Fallon and Kirkwood, MO, says “our cruise sales started off very strong and have since cooled. I’d say it’s about even with last year’s trend.”
Hot Itineraries? Sluggish Regions?
|Lucinda Belden, franchise owner, CruiseOne in Carrollton, TX, says clients increasingly desire cruises that dig deeper into a region or culture.|
We also asked agents about new itineraries. What’s most popular? What can’t cruisers get enough of? What voyages are proving more sluggish?
"My clients can't get enough of specialized itineraries where they can really experience an area or culture," says Belden. She believes it's a great reason for agents to consider a niche, as "clients are looking for a particular experience now and they want to work with someone who can deliver."
Gary Smith, a CruiseOne franchise owner in Springfield, OR, says "while Caribbean sailings are still the single largest segment, they haven't been as popular for our base."
In contrast, Smith reports his agency is having another “very strong Alaska season” for cruise sales. Similarly, “Alaska is a popular cruise destination for our agency here in the Pacific Northwest,” says Harrington.
One soft spot? Interest in voyages to the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and Asia has softened, according to Walsh.
Besides “significant interest in river cruises across the board and an uptick in interest in World Cruise itineraries,” Consoli tells us he believes the lines are working hard to create interesting itineraries to keep repeaters happy: “Crystal’s 102-day World Cruise has been on a wait list for months and Seabourn's roundtrip cruise from Los Angeles has sold out for 2016.”
Consoli points out that Viking has also added some new itineraries for 2016, citing a "Rhineland Dscovery" itinerary that includes Bruges and Ghent, Belgium. That said, “Russia and the Black Sea seems to be challenging this year, because of the political element there,” he mentions.
|John Gawne with Cruises Inc. in Virginia Beach, VA, is seeing higher Web sales. He and wife Karen are shown celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary on Celebrity Summit.|
As with Stanczak, Walsh, Smith, Harrington and others, David Locke stresses that “the hot itineraries we’re seeing are the European river cruises,” as repeat ocean cruisers want the new experience of river cruising.
While interest in the travel industry is strong for the potential of Cuba cruises, Cindy Jabbour Locke notes that Americans generally aren’t aware of what there is to expect and experience in Cuba, “so there is still a lot of education that is needed.”
The Caribbean is always popular for Sebastian’s clients from Kentucky: "With gas prices remaining under $3.00 in our area, a family can drive to Florida in one day and enjoy the great value a cruise provides.”
One soft spot? “We are seeing a downturn in Mexico, as so many people have been there already,” Sebastian acknowledges.
Stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com for the second part of this article on Monday, June 21. It will focus on these 11 experts' "Cruise Outlook" for the last six months of 2015.
In addition, we'll provide more "intel" from this group about mid-year cruise sales trends -- from groups to World Cruises, multigenerational travel, agent development and technology. Gawne, for example, says his agency is experiencing a much higher percentage of online sales this year, crediting that to Millennials booking on mobile devices.
How are your sales going for the first half of 2015? Any itinerary or sales trends you're seeing? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.