Popularity of Extremes: River & Mega-Ships Rank No. 1, 2 in CLIA Agent Survey

Ultimate Family Suite Symphony of the Seas Royal Caribbean Photo by Susan J Young Editorial Use Only
The Ultimate Family Suite is one of the upscale suite categories attracting more luxury guests to Royal Caribbean International's Symphony of the Seas, launched earlier this year.

When it comes to preference for ship sizes and experiences, it’s a world of extremes. Last week, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) released its “2018 Travel Agent Cruise Industry Outlook" and the two top slots for “significant growth” in bookings was definitely a David-and-Goliath comparison.

Top rated for “significant growth” when agents were asked about the “current booking growth level” was river cruising. It was cited by 28 percent of the agents. Typically, river cruises carry 200 guests or fewer.

Yet, in second place, agents cited the category of mega-ships, those humongous vessels that carry some 4,000 to 6,000 passengers.

Some 22 percent of agents cited mega-ships – for example, such ships as the new Norwegian Bliss or Royal Caribbean International’s Symphony of the Seas, among many others – for significant booking growth.

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Many agents say that the mega-ships now have varied audiences. Yes, they appeal to mass-market cruisers seeking lots of choices and entertainment and dining options.

But, increasingly, as these ships offer larger, more robust “ship within a ship” upscale areas – with key card-only access – higher end guests, too, are booking, as they gain the intimacy of the compound and yet the choices they’d only get within a big ship.

Of course, other segments, such as large ships, mid-sized ships and small ships, along with expeditionary cruises also rated well.

Tobi Tuttobene, an independent agent with Cruises and Tours Unlimited, a Travel Leaders Network affiliate in Jacksonville, FL, said “we are selling more river cruises than in the past,” citing more river vessels joining the global fleet and cheaper airfares to overseas destinations.

River Royale western France Blaye Photo courtesy of Uniworld Editorial Use Only

Shown above courtesy of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is River Royale in Blaye, France. 

Eric Ashenbrenner of Just Cruising LLC, New Berlin, WI, who also took the CLIA survey said he’s seen both sides of the “size” issue: “Millennials like to see larger shapes with more innovation but Baby Boomers and [older generations] like more mid-size and smaller ships.”

Both river cruises and mega-ships were identified by only 2 percent of agents surveyed as decreasing in growth.

Overall, for all growth, 75 percent of agents saw increases in river bookings, while 60 percent are experiencing mega-ship booking increases.

Booking Window Expands

Perhaps most notable, though, is that the booking window is growing too for all categories of cruising. Sixty-two percent of all agents said their Alaska booking window is expanding, while 41 percent said the Caribbean booking window – typically with more closely booked voyages – is growing.

Most important for agents booking cruises was the desire by clients to book “bucket list” cruises. Fifty-nine percent of all agents said that was the most important element for clients booking adventure/expedition cruises.

Adventure or exploration travel is highly desired by Millennial and Generation Xers. As for the regions, Alaska came in number one, the Galapagos Islands number two.

Best of all, 80 percent of agents say their cruise sales are higher this year than last, and 75 percent say their clients are spending more than they did last year. 

Agents can get more research/trends tidbits in CLIA's full report.

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