With 30 million travelers expected to cruise this year, a 6 percent increase from the 28.2 million who cruised in 2018, many travel advisors are catching a positive wave of revenue. “This year we have seen an increasing amount of people — almost double from previous years — walking into our center or calling to set an appointment to meet with a travel advisor,” says Michael Decker, franchise partner, Expedia CruiseShipCenters, Orlando, FL.
Host and franchise agency groups are also seeing positive results. “The cruise market from North America continues the strong momentum that we have seen in 2017 and 2018,” reports Brad Tolkin, co-chairman and co-CEO, World Travel Holdings, parent company of Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. “The trends of rising pricing and an expanding booking window — the time between booking and the departure date — validates that consumers are loving the product.” Tolkin also says the Caribbean region, which has 34 percent of total cruise deployment, the most of any region, “is having a great year both from a demand and pricing perspective.”
Advisors also have more berths to sell. Seatrade Cruise’s official “Order Book” estimates that 111 new cruise ships with 242,365 lower berths and an estimated value of $63.6 billion are now under construction or on order. Among those is Costa Cruises’ Costa Smeralda, the line’s first LNG-powered (liquid natural gas) ship.
In fact, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) member lines will operate 272 diverse ships this year — ranging from mega-ships to small ships and yachts, from mid-sized premium ships to expedition vessels and luxury ships. New players too are joining the mix, including Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection and Virgin Voyages, both setting sail this coming winter.
A new sports and wellness-focused cruise line, Blue World Voyages, has announced that its inaugural voyage will set sail this summer. Also, in late March, Grupo Vidanta’s luxury vacationing brand announced it would enter the luxury cruise market for Mexico land-and-sea vacations. The first voyages will begin later this year on the totally revitalized (stripped to the hull and rebuilt upward) Vidanta Elegant, formerly All Leisure Group’s Voyager and built in 1990 as Crown Monarch.
Financial results for the biggest cruise companies are also trending positively. In their first quarter earnings reports, Carnival Corporation said cumulative advance bookings for its North American brands are running ahead of the prior year at higher prices; Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. told investors that the 2019 yield outlook was very encouraging; while Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) reported that it entered 2019 in the best booked position in the company’s history with pricing above the prior year’s record levels.
One “unknown factor,” though, is whether any potential new-to-cruise customers will possibly shy away from a cruise vacation this year after the highly visible Viking Sky emergency off Norway’s coast in March. The Viking Ocean Cruises ship suffered engine failure, the captain issued a mayday and nearly 500 passengers were evacuated by helicopter. Fortunately, there was no loss of life, although one person was seriously injured and other minor injuries occurred. Scary videos taken by guests onboard and media ashore blanketed social media.
What potential impact will those harrowing videos have on potential first-time cruisers and advance bookings? That’s unknown. Currently, the Accident Investigation Board of Norway (AIBN) with input by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the U.K. Maritime Accident Investigative Branch (MAIB) is working to determine the incident’s cause. Initially, AIBN discovered low engine oil levels (while within normal limits) that were adversely impacted by rough seas. But the investigation continued at press time.
But every year has its blips. Agents say they’re simply focusing on planning great vacations. Decker says his potential clients increasingly seem thankful for the opportunity to meet face-to-face with a professional to help plan their travel: “They have mentioned they had looked online and were confused with all the choices and pricing displayed and wanted to be assured they were making the right choices.”
A rendering of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection's first vessel
With more berths to sell, the cruise industry is also providing hefty support to the agency community. Most notably, in late March, Carnival Cruise Line unveiled a new year-long initiative called WUATA or “Why Use a Travel Advisor.” This new promotional campaign is designed to help advisors both attract new clients and deepen the loyalty of existing clients. “By introducing WUATA we’ll be able to share our passion so travelers gain a comprehensive understanding of the benefits of using a travel advisor,” emphasizes Adolfo Perez, Carnival’s senior vice president of sales and trade marketing.
The multi-faceted WUATA initiative will include everything from social media posts to high-profile WUATA Parties (word play on What-a-Party) in Orlando, Minneapolis, New York City and Los Angeles, at which registered agents (visit www.goccl.com) can sign up to bring an existing client and then that client will bring a friend or acquaintance, perhaps someone who has not used an agent. Co-sponsored by Carnival, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) and CLIA, the events will bring clients and industry experts together to promote the travel agent community.
“Four cities is a great start” for the WUATA Parties, but “I would love to have eight cities,” Perez tells Travel Agent, but he says the program is just getting started and more details will be finalized moving forward. Clients and travel advisors can opt in to receive text alerts about new features and tools from the WUATA program throughout the year by texting “WUATA” to 866-Go-WUATA. The alerts will also cover the latest news, contests, offers and more. But “at the end of the day, we want to get the message out about why people use travel agents,” Perez emphasizes.
So what top trends are fueling oceangoing cruise sales? What opportunities are ahead? Here’s our list which includes some trends identified by CLIA in its 2019 Cruise Travel Outlook, others presented by cruise selling agents who focus on cruising, and some trends we recently uncovered.
Generation Z in the Wings
It’s not just Millennials who are becoming the new face of the cruise industry. Close behind are Generation Z consumers. Demographics experts describe this group as being born between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s. Many have previously cruised with their Generation X parents or Boomer grandparents so they’re predisposed to cruising as a fun vacation choice.
CLIA’s research shows that Generation Z is set to become the largest consumer generation in the next two years — outpacing even Millennials. So advisors need to begin learning more about this group, which currently comprises at least 26 percent of the U.S. population, the largest of any group percentage-wise. By 2020, one third of the U.S. population will be Generation Z.
Tips for agents? This generation has always lived in a smart technology era, so they expect communications that way. They expect a “fast pace” when seeking services (or they think something is wrong). They seek authentic experiences over “stuff” and have an even greater wanderlust than Millennials, according to CLIA. They’re also deeply brand loyal and expect the same from brands they patronize.
They are, however, a bit less price sensitive than Millennials, and more entrepreneurial and globally focused in their thinking. CLIA research shows that agents targeting this group should look for cruises with multiple destinations and one-of-a-kind experiences — such as music festivals at sea, for example.
Technology That’s Super Smart
Much about Virgin Voyages’ new product won’t be traditional, such as the Scarlet Lady’s brightly colored, outdoor athletic club training center.
The entire Princess MedallionClass Vacations experience — in which the Medallion wearable technology can open stateroom doors, pay for purchases, order drinks to be delivered to a specific spot on the ship, help parents “find” their children around the ship and much more — will launch on Royal Princess on April 13, followed by Crown Princess on July 24 and Sky Princess beginning October 12, when that newest ship in the Princess fleet departs the shipyard as the first to be built from the ground up with what Princess calls “the Ocean Guest Experience Platform.”
Social Cruising for Business Leads
Agents who post photos on Instagram or talk about their trip on Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites are likely to find new clients. CLIA says Instagram posts are driving travel interest across the globe and that, on an average day, there can be close to 351 million posts with the tag #travel.
A recent survey by Provision Living senior communities showed that 48 percent of Millennials and 37 percent of Boomers spend five-plus hours per day on their phones. Millennials spend 52 minutes a day on Instagram, 60 minutes a day on Facebook, while Boomers spend 44 minutes a day on Instagram and 69 minutes a day on Facebook.
When cruising, Teet and his wife and business partner Joy always buy the cruise line’s Internet package to stay in touch with clients and share photos and videos to both their personal and business Facebook pages. It’s just good business, Teet says, as people comment on the duo’s postings and mention their desire to visit the same destinations or take the same trip “so we are also marketing ourselves and our travel experiences.”
Wellbeing & Total Restoration
Stressed out from fast-paced lives, travelers are seeking ways to rejuvenate. Agents who desire new business should focus on new health and wellness options on the high seas. Cruise lines are more heavily focusing on total wellness in the form of restorative spa experiences, onboard oxygen bars, healthy menu choices for a wide variety of diets, and the latest in fitness innovations. MSC Cruises’ new MSC Bellissima offers Balinese-inspired signature relaxation treatments and a thermal area, among other perks, in the onboard MSC Aurea Spa.
As part of a $500 million upgrade program, Celebrity Cruises is revitalizing its fleet. Celebrity Summit just emerged from a 31-day drydock, with a new Retreat Sundeck for suite guests — created by famed designer Kelly Hoppen; it offers an exclusive new sundeck, new hot tub, cabanas, loungers and a redesigned lounge. A new wellness-focused spa design also was unveiled at Canyon Ranch at Sea, transforming the spa treatment rooms, salon, fitness center and locker rooms. Most notably, the enhanced Persian Garden thermal suite now offers therapeutic spaces and experiences such as a Turkish bath, infrared sauna and salt therapy.
Food as the Means to the Destination
Today, Boomers and younger generations are more adventurous. Those changing guest desires have resulted in Silversea’s new S.A.L.T. (sea and land tastes) program. When it debuts on Silver Moon in 2020, it will focus on local cuisine in activities both onboard and ashore. But unlike many luxury culinary programs, it will be more Bourdain not Michelin in styling. Yes, Muckermann says Silversea will still offer fine-dining experiences onboard, of course.
Balinese culinary expert, Maya Kerthyasa, also a journalist, showcases Bali’s culinary traditions to reporters learning about Silversea’s new S.A.L.T program. // Photograph: Susan Young
But the line also will increasingly use local food as a “means to the destination” for new generations who desire that. Simply put, guests will sample local dishes the way the locals make them for their own families. In some cases, guests will go on new excursions ashore and have that experience in a local family’s home, or a restaurant patronized by locals (not tourists). In many cases, guests may not even be familiar with the ingredients.
Onboard, new spaces will feature opportunities for guests to dine on local cuisine (of the region of sailing) in a S.A.L.T. Kitchen, discuss foodie topics with experts and fellow guests or do research on local cuisine in the S.A.L.T Lab. But don’t expect a room full of formal cook-top stations or talks by celebrity chefs, as instead the program will be decidedly local, informal and feature a storytelling approach. Silversea has tapped journalist Adam Sachs, former editor-in-chief of Saveur, as S.A.L.T.’s director; he’s currently working with the line to develop the program. Travel Agent experienced a snapshot of it on Silver Muse last month; for more details about the philosophy behind the concept, visit travelagentcentral.com and search S.A.L.T.
With many late nights and overnights in port, Azamara Club Cruises also takes guests ashore for dinner to local eateries, plus shore trips offer such options as “Traditional Kotor Culinary Experience,” a half-day Montenegro tour to learn to prepare Kotor cuisine in the home of Vlasta Mandic, a local legend who enjoys sharing culinary arts over a little homemade brandy. Other lines too are doing more with “local cuisine” as part of shore programs.
Bachelor/Bachelorette Events on Short Cruises
Why so? Those short cruises (varying by line from two to five nights) are more affordable, the timing is perfect for many such groups, and, most importantly, the ships on these itineraries are much more amenity-laden and refreshed in recent major drydocks than on the short cruises of the past. Bachelor and bachelorette groups can enjoy plenty of activities, including pool play, gaming, spa treatments and sports bar fun.
Royal Caribbean’s revitalized Mariner of the Seas operates short cruises, as do many other lines. Even upscale lines have a few options; Crystal Cruises has a new five-night “Crystal Getaway” on Crystal Symphony from New Orleans to Curacao on December 16, 2020.
The level and split of that depends on the cruiser. Some people work the majority of time on sea days, while their spouses and kids enjoy the ship’s activities, and then the entire family goes ashore together on other days. Others may check in with their office several times a day or do a bit of work, but it’s not the bulk of their time. Still, shipboard Wi-Fi, stateroom desks and work-friendly cafes, plenty of techie plugs in both staterooms and public spaces are all important.
In that vein, Regent Seven Seas Cruises expects to nearly double Internet bandwidth size across its fleet by January 2020. The line said Internet will be faster and more reliable on all devices and its guests will start seeing bandwidth expansion starting this month. Guests also will have a more streamlined log-in process enabling unlimited complimentary Web surfing.
Skip-Gen & Multigenerational Cruising
But multigenerational travel isn’t just the traditional family unit (grandparents, parents and kids). It can be larger family groups traveling for genealogy purposes — to explore their family’s homeland, or for cousins to re-bond after many years, particularly as their parents/aunts/uncles pass and they seek to strengthen the family ties.
And another popular trend among the multigenerational options is “Skip-Gen” travel with grandparents taking their grand-kids on a wonderful adventure. Pris Phillips, an independent vacation specialist, Cruises Inc., in Columbia, SC, says “so many grandparents are learning that one of the greatest joys of aging is enjoying time with their grandchildren and what a better way than to take them traveling.”
She cites the uninterrupted quality time together exploring new destinations, disconnecting from Wi-Fi (if preferred), maybe even a little history or geography lesson and, most of all, making life-long memories. Phillips says her granddaughter is looking forward to her ninth cruise in August and “cruising with a grandchild can bring spoiling to an entirely new level, as waterparks, pools, round-the-clock pizza and/or ice cream will result in more hugs than you could ever imagine.”
Some lines, including Cunard Line and Holland America Line also have solo accommodations on their ships. Most notable is Norwegian Cruise Line’s Studio Complex and Lounge, a key-card-accessible-only space for solo travelers on certain ships. Well-designed, private interior studio cabins offer up to 100 square feet of space, a full-size bed, private bathroom, flat-screen TV, and either a window to an interior corridor or (for Norwegian Bliss), a porthole-like area with a “live” ocean-view feed. The Studio’s Lounge is a shared hang-out place with its own large screen TVs, coffee facilities, a bartender (at certain hours) and more.
Burgeoning Expedition/Small-Ship Ocean Cruising
In addition, expedition cruise interest is soaring with many new ships on order. Since Travel Agent and Luxury Travel Advisor covered the expedition trend extensively earlier this year, search for “expedition” or “beyond the horizon” at travelagentcentral.com and luxurytraveladvisor.com, respectively. Whichever trends you may decide to add into your marketing mix, action counts. So make a plan, develop concrete steps and move forward to corral more cruise revenue in 2019.
Variety Cruises offers a “boutique” style for its onboard, small-ship experience.
New Ships Setting Sail
Here’s a brief round-up of some of the new ships launching this year and into early 2020.
- Coral Expeditions’ Coral Adventurer
- Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Hanseatic nature
- Mystic Cruises’ World Explorer
- Royal Caribbean International’s Spectrum of the Seas
- Oceanwide Expeditions’ Hondius
- Celebrity Cruises’ Flora
- Ponant’s Le Bougainville
- Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen
- Aurora Expeditions/SunStone’s Greg Mortimer
- Scenic’s Scenic Eclipse
- Ponant’s Le Dumont d’Urville
- Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Panorama
- Costa Cruises’ Costa Smeralda
- Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Encore
- Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Hanseatic inspiration
- Antarctica21’s Magellan Explorer
- MSC Cruises’ MSC Grandiosa
- Princess Cruises’ Sky Princess
- First Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection vessel
- Star Clippers’ Flying Clipper
- Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady
- Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Endurance
Other new vessels are also launching this year and next, with a slew of new ships orders for deliveries through 2027.
Sales Tip that Pays Off
How can you make a big difference in ramping up sales right now? Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service, Royal Caribbean International, gives this helpful tip.
- When clients are ready to book a cruise, always ask: “Is there anyone else you can think of who might want to travel with you on this vacation?”
- Many times, it’s not something they’ve thought about upfront. But when it’s suggested, they often do.
- The result? Freed says that if the travel advisor asks that question every single time at “closing,” then one in four times, the agent will land a new client too.