|For 2015 and beyond, the cruise industry will add more overnights in port, as well as more two-night stays, according to cruise industry sources. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Looking ahead to 2015, Travel Agent recently surveyed top cruise industry executives, travel agency owners and front-line agents about the top trends moving forward.
New Ships that Build Marketing Place Buzz: Four new ships catering to North American travelers will launch in 2015, more in 2016 and beyond. Marni Becker, director of cruise sales, Protravel International, looks forward to seeing Viking Star as well as Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ new Seven Seas Explorer, launching in summer 2016.
A few months ago, Travel Leaders Group cruise specialists received a list of 17 new ocean and river cruise ships that are launching or will debut through 2016. Asked to identify which they are most excited about, the agents identified these as the top "most anticipated" -- Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas, Viking Cruises’ Viking Star and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Escape.
|Increasingly, Millennials demand 24-7 connections at sea. // Photo by Crystal Cruises|
"Certainly, the new ships are going to shake up the industry,” said Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean's senior vice president of sales, trade support and service.
While new ships have always been a good thing for the industry, Freed said now, more than ever, something that’s new and very different is needed. “These ships are catering to the Millennials (those born between 1977 and 2000) because of the technology,” she emphasized.
For example, Millennials are interested in the new Quantum of the Seas not only for its high-speed Internet, but also for its Robotic Bar and new types of entertainment where technological aspects – not simply the performers – are the stars. Freed says her line’s research has showed Millennials want to bring all their devices along, get connected fast and “not wait for anything.”
More Overnights in Port: From the perspective of Nexion agent Richard Walke, By Land or By Sea Vacations, Atlanta, GA, "I think one of the more interesting things happening regarding ports of call isn't necessarily the ports themselves, but the growing number of overnight calls that cruise lines now have."
He says staying overnight at a port opens up new experiences. Cruise lines also see that as an opportunity to breathe some new life into existing ports. Backing up that theory, recent announcements about 2016 and 2017 schedules show not only a slew of overnights but even many more two-night stays in port.
That's likely to continue, as cruisers have more time for in-depth destination experiences, while cruise lines also save money on fuel costs.
Continuing Demand for Luxury: Alex Sharpe, president and CEO, Signature Travel Group, said demand is still strong for both traditional luxury products (Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line and others), as well as luxury suites on contemporary brands (The Haven on Norwegian Cruise Line, the new generation of suites on Royal Caribbean’s mega-ships, Celebrity Cruises’ spa suites and others).
|Alex Sharpe of Signature Travel Group sees a continuing demand for luxury cruising; Seabourn Sojourn is shown above. // Photo by Seabourn Cruise Line.|
Sharpe said the challenge for retailers is that many new ships fill “top down” so booking clients ASAP on luxury products is essential. Libbie Rice also noted that luxury sales continue to pace well ahead.
Greater Value of Agents: Many executives told us they think travel agents will be even more valued by cruise lines in the new year. Why? It’s “because the cruise industry’s number one challenge is to get more people to experience the phenomenal product it has,” according to Brad Tolkin, co-president and CEO, World Travel Holdings.
People aren’t predisposed to take a cruise, he emphasized, and as only 3 percent of consumers cruise per year, the travel agent is the cruise lines’ best friend. Concurring is Freed, who believes: “Agents will be more valued, because time is more valuable to consumers.”
While people often think they can make a cruise booking themselves, “it’s information overload, it’s too much, and they need the help and advice that a travel agent can quickly articulate,” Freed said. As cruise products have become more complex and competition has increased, “some suppliers are going to circle the wagons around the travel agency community,” Freed believes.
Need for New Communciations Strategies: Michelle Fee, co-founder and CEO, Cruise Planners, said it’s more important than ever for agents to communicate with their customers via the communications channels the specific customer -- not the agent -- desires. “The world is changing faster and faster, and communication is going to be the agent trend in 2015…Those agents who are order takers will be left behind," Fee stressed.
Similarly, Freed says agents and cruise lines must tread carefully if they wish to reach today’s consumers, many of them Millennials with growing pocketbooks. While it’s easy to say “I want this group of people,” Freed says research shows that “it’s not what you want, it’s what they want.”
Freed emphasized that today's Millennials desire to buy everything online and about 75 percent of all travelers use smartphones. It’s no longer good enough to just e-mail promotions, she said: “In 2015, travel agents must create campaigns, strategically email their clients, make calls (actually pick up the phone for a personal touch), constantly update social media networks and leverage smartphone apps to build their business.”
More Exotic Options: New, exotic options are highly appealing to experienced cruisers. Sharpe points to what he calls "the breathtaking success of Crystal Cruises and its Northwest Passage sailing, which sold out in less than two weeks, for an itinerary far into the future."
Sharpe also pointed to the success of the luxury Silversea Expeditions. “Travelers are hungry for new destinations, new experiences, new ports and new horizons," he noted.
One challenge in selling exotic cruises? Sharpe said agents must expand their knowledge base, work closely with cruise line representatives to train on the new itineraries and "up the ante" to serve clients who are more sophisticated and savvy than ever before.
Stronger Supplier Support: Debbie Fiorino, senior vice president, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., said that what’s most important for the success of individual agents in the coming year is the continuing support they receive from cruise line suppliers. She cites such helpful trade programs as “Carnival Conversations,” Norwegian’s “Partners First” and Royal Caribbean’s “Loyal To You.”
Brad Anderson, co-president, Avoya Travel/American Express, believes even stronger trade partnerships will develop in 2015 as suppliers realize that the travel agent relationship has more benefit than being a distribution channel: “Agencies that have marketing acumen and their own brand presence will become extraordinarily valuable to suppliers.”
A Changing Marketplace: One thing is absolutely certain, our sources said: The cruise industry continues to evolve with new cruise executives, new themed cruises, new agent programs and new itineraries.
|Lisa Lutoff-Perlo is the new president of Celebrity Cruises; Celebrity Reflection is shown above. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
For example, Celebrity Cruises has a new president in Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, while that line’s former president, Michael Bayley, has taken the helm of sister line, Royal Caribbean International. Existing lines are establishing new brands – such as Louis Cruises launching Celestyal Cruises – while a new line in Viking Cruises takes to the high seas in 2015.
Even the major players are embracing change. Carnival Corporation, which in the past hasn't focused sizably on multi-brand marketing, has launched a major new campaign for its eight diverse brands, while Royal Caribbean has created a new cruise entity in China with iTrip.com.
And finally, Norwegian Cruise Line now owns Prestige Cruises’ two brands, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, creating the world’s third largest cruise company.
For agents, looking ahead to the new year, though, many tell us it's just “another day at the office,” as they sell cruises in new and different ways every day and look forward to a good Wave Season in the first quarter of 2015.
Stay tuned for our special Forecast Issue of the print magazine on Dec. 29 for a further look at what these experts believe is up for the year ahead in cruise sales.