The cruise industry keeps chugging along—so says the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) in its 2008 Cruise Market Profile Study. Best of all, travel agents continue to play a vital role in selling cruises: Of the 2,426 U.S. residents over the age of 25 who were interviewed online for the study between March and April 2008, 42 percent (up from 40 percent this past year) said travel agents provide the best service. Maybe more telling, 78 percent of cruisers use travel agents for all types of travel planning, as compared to 44 percent of non-cruise vacationers.
Who uses travel agents to book cruises?
Crunching the Numbers
“This fact is not lost on CLIA’s nearly 16,000 travel agency members who continue to be the industry’s invaluable distribution system and consumers’ most reliable source of assistance and service in planning and booking vacations,” said Terry Dale, president and CEO of CLIA.
In 2007, 9.57 million Americans took a cruise vacation, representing 76 percent of the total 12.56 million passengers carried on CLIA member lines, the survey says. This year’s study also concluded that almost 34 million Americans intended to cruise within the next three years. “Perhaps the economy isn’t having as much of an impact as we thought,” said Art Pfenning, vice president of Travel and Transport (TNS), which conducted the study in tandem with CLIA.
“Given the current economic climate, we are particularly pleased to see that American cruisers remain bullish on the industry,” Dale added.
Other findings of note: The general profile of the 2008 cruise vacationer is upscale (with a median household income of $93,000) and educated (69 percent have a college degree); the median age of cruisers is now 46 years old, down from 49 in 2006, which shows that cruise vacations continue to appeal to younger travelers; travelers most frequently name the Caribbean as their cruise destination of choice (43 percent) with Alaska, the Bahamas, Hawaii, Europe and the Mediterranean/Greek islands also top choices; and 80 percent of cruise vacationers agree that a cruise is a great way to sample destinations that they may wish to visit on a future land-based vacation.
Not surprisingly, travel agents remain the top selling arm of the cruise industry, with 74 percent of cruisers saying they use agents to book their cruise. By type, 88 percent of luxury cruisers prefer to book through travel agents.
Among senior citizens, 77 percent are likely to tap travel agents to book their cruises. Seniors are followed closely by baby boomers at 73 percent. However, the most compelling number is the 69 percent of Gen-Xers (those defined by the study as being between the ages of 25 and 44), who enlist agents to book their cruises.
Summing It Up
The news remains good for the industry. Cruising continues to receive high customer satisfaction marks, both for its value and service quality. While interest in cruising continues to grow through TV spots and magazine campaigns, destination websites and plain word-of-mouth still maintain the most influence. Also spurring demand is the increasing number of U.S. homeports, which means that passengers can drive to their ship, instead of paying exorbitant airfares.
Just as travel agents have increasingly become more attentive and better at their jobs, travelers have also gotten better at researching and ultimately booking a vacation. The word “savvy” often accompanies today’s traveler. In today’s vacation market, having some sort of professional accreditation is less optional than it may have been in the past. The CLIA study notes that two-thirds of all travelers consider a professional designation as a cruise expert to be extremely important; this number is even higher with cruisers (75 percent) and within that segment, 81 percent of luxury passengers believe strongly that agents should carry a professional designation. As the price of a cruise rises, travelers expect their travel agent to be on par with the type of cruise they are selling. The lesson to agents: Take classes, get accredited and move more business.
As expected, contemporary lines attract the most first-time cruisers, while luxury and contemporary lines both get high repeater rates. According to the study, the relatively high proportion (45 percent) of new cruisers into the market suggests that the industry continues to attract first-time cruisers. These travelers are the backbone of continued industry success. Moreover, the study indicates that cruise marketing campaigns are having a positive effect.