Survey: Mexico Bouncing Back, Consumers Booking Mid-Sized Ships

If you are looking for insights into current sales and booking trends, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., both part of World Travel Holdings (WTH), offers the results of the companies’ joint Quarterly Trend Survey. The survey is based on polling of 1,000 plus franchise owners and agents on key industry issues. CruiseOne has 552 independently owned cruise travel franchise locations and Cruises Inc. has more than 500 agents nationwide.

Mexico Bouncing Back from Struggles in Early 2009

When asked to list their three top-selling cruise destinations in the third quarter 2009:

*    76.4 percent indicated the Caribbean as their most popular selling destination
Mexico moved up on the list from the second quarter, coming in second at 19 percent
*    Third place was split between Alaska, Europe and the Mediterranean

Along the same lines, the survey asked “What is your most requested destination so far for 2010?”

*    57.9 percent indicated the Caribbean as their most requested cruise destination for 2010
*    11.8 percent responded with Alaska
*    10.1 percent responded with Europe
*    The rest were divided between The Mediterranean, Mexico, South America and Asia

Is Business Picking Up for Agents?

Next, the quarter three survey asked agents to compare cruise bookings versus the same time last year:

*    46.1 percent indicated that bookings increased slightly or significantly
*    28.1 percent indicated that bookings decreased slightly or significantly
*    The rest of the agents polled indicated that bookings remained flat

Asked to compare cruise prices versus the same time last year, the response was again mixed:

*    58.4 percent responded that cruise prices decreased slightly or significantly
*    25.3 percent saw a slight or significant increase in cruise prices
*    The remaining 16.3 percent responded that cruise prices remained flat

Dream, Epic, Oasis Buzz:  Does New Ship Hype Equate to Bookings?

Throughout the third quarter, there has been much buzz surrounding the launch of new ships and mega-ships by the leading cruise lines. Agents were asked if this has driven increased bookings:

*    15.1 percent indicated a slight or significant increase in bookings on the new ships due out later this year or in 2010 versus the previous two quarters
*    17.3 percent indicated a slight or significant decrease in bookings on the new ships
*    The remaining 67.6 percent indicated that booking levels have remained flat on the new ships throughout 2009

To understand consumer interest regarding the new ships, the survey asked “Do the majority of your regular cruise customers prefer a family-friendly, mid-sized ship experience; an intimate, smaller-ship experience; or the newest, biggest, most innovative ship experience?”

*    61.2 percent indicated that their customers prefer a family-friendly cruise experience on a mid-sized ship
*    20.2 percent responded that their customers seek the newest, biggest, most innovative ship possible
*    18.5 percent indicated that their regular customers opt for an intimate experience on a smaller ship

Cruise Line Discounting & Non-Commissionable Fees: How Do They Affect Agent Profitability?

A frequently discussed topic throughout 2009 has been cruise line pricing, the launch of new promotions (two-for-one cruise fares, for example) and the impact of these, combined with non-commissionable fees, on the business of travel agents.

When asked how cruise line price promotions have impacted profitability this year:

*    39.9 percent indicated this has not impacted their profitability
*    35.4 percent indicated this has reduced their profitability
*    12.9 percent indicated that while commissions have been impacted, they have remained profitable
*    The remaining agents polled did not respond to this question.

When asked specifically about NCFs and their impact on agents’ overall profitability:

*    An overwhelming 83.7 percent responded that NCFs continue to be an issue and have, over the past three quarters, slightly or significantly reduced their profitability
*    5.6 percent responded that NCFs have not impacted their profitability
*    The remaining agents polled did not respond to this question.

In looking at additional revenue streams for agents, one potential area many have pointed out is shore excursions.  The third quarter survey asked, “In your opinion, should shore excursions be commissionable?”

*    86 percent felt that yes, they should receive a commission for the shore excursions they sell
*    12.9 percent were undecided
*    1.1 percent did not feel that they should be paid a commission on shore excursions

Is An Industry Rebound on the Horizon?

Finally, the third quarter survey asked agents whether or not the cruise industry will rebound from the economic challenges of 2009 and if so, when (based on cruise pricing and booking trends)?:

*    34.3 percent were unclear as to if and when the industry would rebound
*    14.6 percent estimated an industry rebound by third quarter 2010
*    13.5 percent estimated an industry rebound by second quarter 2010
*    12.4 percent estimated an industry rebound by fourth quarter 2010
*    7.9 percent estimated an industry rebound by first quarter 2010
*    4.5 percent indicated that in their opinion, the industry (prices, bookings, etc.) has already rebounded
*    The rest of those polled did not answer this question.

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