|Initial Wave Season reports look good for Carnival Liberty (shown here) and all the ships in the cruise industry's fleet.// Photo by Susan J. Young|
The 2012 Wave Season has just begun. So what's the "take"? Are sales better, the same or not as good as last year's Wave?
A sampling of opinions from retailers last week appears to show sales headed in the right direction – upward – when compared with last year’s Wave.
Typically running from January to March for most lines, Wave Season is the cruise industry's peak sales period of the year. Cruise lines typically offer their best deals during the first quarter as they seek to fill cabins and then raise pricing as the year progresses.
Nexion President Jackie Friedman says, “2011 was a very strong year for cruise sales for Nexion (www.nexion.com), and almost across the board, we are trending well ahead of that pace going into 2012.” She says agents are telling her they are busier this winter than last and that phones are ringing.
“Based on that feedback, and our sales on the books, I do believe that 2012 will be even stronger than 2011, which was great for us,” Friedman says. Her agents report increased demand for river cruising and luxury cruises, along with a strong base of contemporary and premium bookings.
In addition, “our agents continue to focus more and more on building their group business which has definitely paid off for our mutual sales growth,” Friedman says.
Cruise Holidays (www.cruiseholidays.com) last week put out a press release reporting positive early indications for Wave Season. More than 73 percent of Cruise Holidays respondents said they were very optimistic or somewhat optimistic about Wave Season.
Other organizations also see good potential. “Less than one full week into the New Year, it’s difficult to predict, but I expect volume and revenue will surpass January 2011 numbers,” reports Frans Hansen, president, The Cruise Web Inc. (www.cruiseweb.com). “There are some encouraging early lead and booking signs coming through."
Ralph Iantosca, owner of GoGirl.Travel (www.gogirl.travel), a Virtuoso agency, says his luxury cruise sales have exceeded those in the same period a year ago, with bookings up 20 percent so far.
Trends he sees? “We noticed our clientele cares about the advice we give, and they are willing to spend more if they see the value,” Iantosca notes. By stressing value, “we’ve managed to upgrade 90 percent of our clients to the luxury level of cruising.”
What’s selling well? “Europe and Alaska continue to be strong for us, with the Caribbean remaining steady,” according to Friedman. She says Nexion’s agents also are seeing increased interest in cruise/tour combinations.
Europe also remains a hot destination for Iantosca’s luxury clients. “It’s going to be interesting now that Crystal has gone [starting in spring 2012] all-inclusive,” he says, noting that it’s a new opportunity to upgrade clients who have typically sailed on premium lines in the past.
What about the quality of this year’s Wave Season cruise offers? Friedman says she's seeing many attractive offers, some spilling over from the fourth quarter 2011. Recent offers include bonus commissions from Uniworld, a "Sell Two and Sail Free" offer from Crystal, a balcony sale for Europe and Alaska from Princess and two-for-one Caribbean fares from Windstar.
But with so many offers out there, “in many ways, it can be overwhelming for agents as they try and navigate through all of the offers to find the best fit for their customers,” Friedman acknowledges.
She says her agents are most attracted by cruise line promotions that feature increased customer amenities or category upgrades at regular prices versus those with reduced prices, which result in reduced commissions.
While cruise deals may be great, airfare continues to be a challenge from both a capacity and a pricing perspective. Friedman reports Nexion’s agents “are encouraging customers to book early, taking advantage of some of the promotions out there to avoid not being able to take advantage of closer-in offers due to high airfares.”
Are you having a good early Wave Season? Would you characterize cruise sales and cruise line offers as better, the same or not as good as last year? What trends are you seeing early in this early part of Wave Season? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TravelAgentMagazine or e-mail your feedback to our cruise editor at [email protected].