Cruise sales now make up more than half of the total business mix of the Vacation.com agency network, which consists of over 5,000 predominantly leisure-oriented agencies across the U.S. and Canada, according to a recent survey by Vacation.com.
"All indications are that consumers are still taking cruises, but they are adjusting their plans to shorter cruises spread-out over the growing and diverse products offered by the many cruise lines," Steve Tracas, president of Vacation.com said.
Most Vacation.com agencies were reporting a shorter booking window for cruises, a phenomenon experienced by tour packagers for the past decade, says Vacation.com. However, even here, some retailers said they were getting bookings as far out as 2009 cruise sailings.
The Vacation.com Engagement Program—approximately 2,100 Vacation.com members are signed on to the program—appears to be a solid business tool. Engaged agents typically reported sales gains and were less likely to report declines in the premium/luxury cruise market and the 14-day sailing category.
Engaged agents are the most likely to report much better results in 2008 compared with 2007. Among the engaged agents reporting, a total of 81 percent said that sales increased as compared to 69 percent for non-engaged agents.
Engaged agents were also more likely to show an increase in premium or luxury cruises with 20 percent reporting an increase in bookings as compared with 15 percent among non-engaged agencies. The latter are also less likely to book luxury cruises altogether with 15 percent not operating in this segment.
Although down year-over-year, Caribbean cruises continue to lead the market in popularity with more than half of all cruises booked in the 2008 wave season. The Caribbean was followed by Alaska (18 percent) and the European cruise market (15 percent) in consumer preference.
Agencies participating in the engagement program show a higher percentage of sales for Alaska cruises at 21 percent as compared with non-engaged agencies at 16 percent
“Our survey reflects the current environment in the cruise industry that is positioned for record growth between now and 2012," Tracas said. "The industry is gearing up for an additional 36 ships, which will represent an additional 77,000 berths. Cruising is quickly becoming a year round, global experience for travelers.
"While no industry is recession-proof, the cruise industry has been very resilient over the course of history. With the many changes upcoming within the industry, we see this trend continuing. Contributing to this fact is cruising has become more global with reported new destinations in Europe, South America, Asia and Australia. Also, river cruising is an extremely fast-growing segment of the cruise market."
Read Part 1 of Vacation.com's cruise sales report.