In a perfect world – for travel advisors – cruise lines maintain high pricing, while also offering a series of value adds that make selling those cruises easier. More earned commission, less time selling – it's the sweet spot for advisors.
That was very much the case for travel advisors selling Celebrity Cruises, up until recently when the cruise line announced it was dropping gratuities from its "All Included" add-on package, and taking away the onboard credit from The Retreat bookings. The change caught several advisors we talked to off guard.
"This year was our highest booking year for Celebrity mostly due to All Included being so easy to sell," one advisor told us. "And we were upselling to Retreat with the extra OBC they offered."
She wasn't the only advisor we had spoken to throughout the year talking about how the All Included package made it so easy to sell Celebrity.
Now, some advisors are rethinking which cruise lines make the most sense for them to refer their clients to. Plus, the erosion of what they perceived as added value also opens the minds of many cruisers to consider something they might not have considered before.
It's a perfect opportunity for other cruise lines in the premium space to make a play for some of these cruisers.
(Though one advisor we spoke to about this said, "Celebrity cruisers love Celebrity." He also told us, he has no plans to move Celebrity cruisers away from the brand, saying the hubbub over the All Included plan will eventually die down.)
It might also be a chance for advisors to introduce cruisers that might have been married to Celebrity to other options, options that might be more lucrative for advisors. (Though we readily admit a The Retreat booking is pretty lucrative!)
In particular, we're thinking of four possibilities, each with its own pros and cons that advisors will need to figure out for themselves and their clients.
There's Oceania Cruises, whose "simply MORE" added-value pricing does not carry an upcharge and is focused on destination immersion ($600 to $1,600 in shore excursion credits), along with free alcoholic drinks at meals, and free Wi-Fi. For premium cruisers looking to do destination-rich itineraries, Oceania is a feasible – value-rich – alternative to Celebrity.
Or Holland America Line, whose "Have It All" added-value pricing is a pretty close match to Celebrity's "All Included," costing $50 a day and including a beverage package, Wi-Fi, shore excursion credits, limited free specialty dining, and, during promo periods, daily gratuities. Of course, selling Holland America to a Celebrity cruiser might be a hard sell simply based on preconceived notions of who the HAL cruiser is.
Another option is Princess and its "Princess Plus" ($60/day) and "Princess Premier" ($80/day) add-on fares, which include drinks, Wi-Fi, and gratuities, along with several other perks. Like Holland America, Princess might be a hard sell for someone who's only cruised Celebrity before.
Finally, there's Norwegian Cruise Line, whose newer ships offer an upscale premium experience like Celebrity, but whose Free At Sea isn't as inclusive as it looks at first glance (free drinks don't include gratuities, Wi-Fi is limited to 150 minutes, etc.) – though there's no upcharge for any of it. And, of course, for advisors who joined the line's no NCF program last year, the commissions can't be beat.
We're curious to hear from you. How are you and your clients feeling about Celebrity dropping gratuities from its All Included package? Which premium cruise lines' "inclusive" packaging is the most compelling to you? Drop me a note and let me know what you think.