Sailing into 2012: CLIA's Duffy Reveals Top Luxury Cruise Trends at Luxury Travel Expo


Christine Duffy, president and CEO, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)

The well-known adage, “’What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,’ is not going to apply to this group,” Christine Duffy, president and CEO, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), quipped to a Luxury Travel Expo audience of thousands of agents attending a full-bodied General Session presentation focused on luxury cruising.

Rather, Duffy urged agents to soak in the research and take away market intelligence and selling tips from the conference's full-bodied line-up of travel experts. 

In her presentation, Duffy energized the agents with concrete tips, trend information and gleanings designed to enhance their luxury cruise sales in 2012. Here's a summary of that presentation.

Selling Luxury Post-Recession 

“Pre-2008, we had a society of consumers -- particularly at the high end of the market -- who were proud of how much money they had, how fast they could spend it…and a lot of it was about accumulating stuff,” Duffy stressed. “It was all about having it now.”

But, at the same time, she said the general population was hurt badly by the economic crisis and consumers had much anxiety about the future. During the height of the recession, affluent consumers felt guilty about having and showing wealth. Even Tiffany’s replaced their famous blue bags with brown paper ones, she noted, as “wealth was no longer a badge of honor.”

But over time, “frugal fatigue” developed within the affluent market and “people who had money were tired of feeling guilty,” Duffy emphasized. Today, “habits, priorities and tastes have changed,” she said. 

For example, post-recession research shows the affluent are now choosing products more wisely. They’re not focused on accumulating stuff but about creating experiences that matter.

Duffy cited recent Conde Nast survey results that showed 75 percent of the affluent are thinking more about what they buy than in the past, 88 percent say they’re saving more, but these consumers also say they’re happy to spend money on things they’re passionate about. 

Tracking the Affluent Customer

There are 24 million affluent Americans, said Duffy, using data by Ipsos Mendelsohn, Affluent Consumers in a Digital World, July 2011.

The luxury market constitutes approximately 60 percent of total U.S. household wealth. Affluent consumers have an annualized income of $100,000 or more.

And, they spend three times as much as anyone else.The recent Conde Nast luxury survey showed that the affluent spend more than $4,100 per household annually on vacations or personal travel.

Of those high-end customers, though, only 26 percent agreed that “now is a good time to buy” jewelry and only 40 percent responded affirmatively when asked the same question about buying clothing. 

Yet, when it came to purchasing travel, a whopping 78 percent said “now is a good time to buy” – that level of enthusiasm even exceeded their desire (74 percent) to buy a new car.  

Hot Buttons that Appeal

What do the affluent desire when they purchase travel? Duffy cited comments from “The Evolution of Luxury Travel” in Travel Agent magazine, noting that in a time of economic uncertainty, value is simply becoming more valuable to the luxury consumers.

It’s not about spending less or stretching the dollar but about spending smarter, Duffy said. And just what constitutes that value?

“In today’s world, time is the new currency,” Duffy stressed. “It’s capturing someone’s time and attention long enough to develop a relationship.”

She emphasized that agents need to realize that their clients’ tolerance for engaging with even their favorite brands has a low-time threshold; people just don’t want to waste any time.

The affluent also want exclusivity. They want to able to have an experience not available to everyone else. And, “people are valuing privacy, as more and more information is available [online] 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Duffy said.

Looking at service, she cited Las Vegas as a great example of the tremendous amount of money invested in physical product. She told the agents that the cruise industry has also invested billions in new ship hardware, and that these ships also have incredible physical properties.

But, at the end of the day, Duffy stressed that it’s the outstanding service that guests remember most. “It doesn’t matter how great something is if I can’t have good quality, consistent service,” she said.

Another trend? “People want to be able to do more, see more, and do it with their families,” she said, noting that this is occurring even though today's families are more dispersed.

Summarizing, Duffy said a vacation experience for the affluent traveler has the following qualities: It makes good use of time. It’s exclusive. It offers privacy. It involves outstanding service. It’s a unique experience. And, it allows travelers to connect with family members.

Enhanced Potential for Luxury Sales

Citing survey results from the American Affluence Research Center, Duffy outlined the sales perspective for agents. Eighteen percent of the wealthiest U.S. households indicated they plan to take a luxury cruise within the next 12 months. 

"That's up from 15 percent in spring 2011 and from 12 percent in fall 2010,” she said. And that 18 percent represents about 2 million households – meaning that 4 million affluent consumers will cruise in the next year. 

Duffy said the affluent groups most likely to cruise are those with a net worth of more than $6 million, those with income above $200,000 and those age 60 and older. She also said these people may take more than one cruise annually and a longer cruise than the average cruiser.

Travel professionals might tap into these trends for 2012 sales promotion, according to Duffy: 

Growth in Ancestral Travel: She noted that this was extremely popular among American-born families who want to explore their heritage by traveling to such countries as Russia, the Baltics, China and Japan.

“Ends of the Earth” Journeys:  Luxury travelers seeking new and unique experiences will find them in “under the radar” destinations – such as within less-visited European countries like Albania and Serbia, as well as in the Russian Far East, Greenland, Uzbekistan and other countries in central Asia.

Holistic Travel:  Research shows shifts in what travelers perceive as important for personal growth. Agents should target the affluent market’s burgeoning interest in mind-body-soul travel.

Second Chance Cities: Frequent travelers may think they know a city, but upon closer look, they may find that there is so much more to explore.

The Emergence of The BRICS: An acronym for the emerging powerhouses of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the BRICS are rapidly emerging as unique travel destinations that appeal to high-end clients in search of new adventures.

The Luxury Client's Decision Path

Utilizing July 2011 research results from Google/OTX (, Duffy revealed that: 59 percent of luxury consumers plan to spend more time shopping around and researching travel, because finding value for money is important to them.

In addition, 57 percent say they’ll take advantage of travel coupons and discounts more in the next year; 53 percent plan to spend more time comparison shopping online in the next year than in the past; and 39 percent plan to take a wait-and-see approach in booking travel, rather than booking in advance, in order to secure good deals.

Duffy views the latter number as good, as it’s not that high. She says the shift now is to early booking for the best deals. “If you want the best deal, trip, itinerary and the cabin you want, you need to book early,” she said.

Mobile devices count and it’s increasingly important for agents to communicate with their clients via mobile devices, Duffy said. 

Research shows that more than 79 percent of affluent consumers say their lives have become increasingly intertwined with technology over the past decade; that trend holds strongly across diverse age groups including more than 70 percent for those 65 and older.

In fact, 44 percent of U.S. travelers plan to use their mobile device or smartphone more as a travel resource during trips in 2012.

Forty-seven percent plan to use their mobile device for their travel needs at their destination, 31 percent plan to use travel applications on their mobile devices or smartphones in 2012 and 16 percent plan to use travel applications on their tablet devices.

The good news for agents is that travelers – while having more and more access to do-it-yourself travel information – are finding travel planning increasingly more complex, explained Duffy.

Simply put, she said, the consumer is overwhelmed. The consumer is anxious, and can benefit from the tender loving care that a skilled agent can provide. 

One trend that needs watching, though, is that research shows next-generation luxury travelers have different expectations. For example, these younger affluent consumers believe “you get what you pay for."

Thus, they often view fee services (versus free services) as a better business model that offers them higher customer satisfaction.  

In closing, Duffy stressed that it’s very important for today’s luxury sellers to specialize and also to keep up to date with how their potential clients communicate. Agents need to network, socialize and “get with the technology.”

Travel professional also must know travel products inside-and-out for confident selling, she stressed. And agents need to travel in the same circles as their customers, suppliers and affiliates. 

And don’t push aside the value of a deal as something only for the masses. Deal hunting has moved from the concept of “bagging a bargain” to a status symbol of the perceived smartness of the client or agent.

Looking ahead, agents who want to enhance sales should tap into family and multigenerational travel trends, focus on the rise of fine dining onboard luxury ships; stress that cruising delivers active and adventuresome vacations; and show clients that the increasing globalization of itineraries offers new luxury travel possibilities.

While the luxury travel arena continues to evolve, “what an exciting time it is to be a travel professional,” Duffy, a former travel agent herself, told the Luxury Travel Expo attendees.  

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