When pricing on land vacations reaches levels never before seen, what is a luxury traveler to do? As has proven the case this year, in some instances, that traveler turns to cruising.
Travel Market Report reached out to several travel agencies that specialize in luxury travel to hear more about the new trend.
Italy as a case study
Using words like "astronomical" and "shocking" to describe pricing, several of the advisors TMR spoke with pointed specifically to Italy as a destination where they're seeing more non-cruisers turning to cruise.
"I've observed a remarkable influx in demand for travel to Italy this past summer," said LaDell Carter, founder and president of Royal Expression Travels, a member of the Travel Leaders Network.
Not only has the surge in demand essentially eliminated any semblance of a shoulder season, but the "heightened demand has led to astronomical prices and scarce availability," she added.
Angela Hughes, CTC, CEO and founder of Trips & Ships, also a Travel Leaders Network member, echoed LaDell.
"We've kind of reached a boiling point in what people are paying on the ground now," she told TMR. "The prices have been going up, up, up and we're reaching price points that have never been seen before at hotels and with drivers."
As an example, LaDell mentioned a family of four for whom she planned a summer Italian vacation that cost upwards of $150,000.
"While such extravagant trips are a testament to Italy's allure, the expense has made the destination inaccessible to others."
Case in point, two separate families that approached LaDell about Italy vacations this summer, but couldn't afford the astronomical pricing.
Enter high-end cruising, which offers a similar level of luxury, at a better price – and better value.
"I successfully sent two families on such voyages, one on Celebrity Cruises and the other on Disney Cruise Line," LaDell said, adding that the inclusions, such as full board on both lines, and spaces like The Retreat and the Concierge Lounge on Celebrity, "offered a more valuable proposition."
Hughes has also shifted new-to-cruise clients from land vacations to cruises in Italy, though she said it's primarily been with clients who waited to book.
"We had a set of clients who wanted to go in September, more last-minute… we had the space but the prices were so ridiculously high… they did shift to cruise because it made sense," she said.
Not only Italy
While the move from cruise to land is particularly prominent in the Mediterranean this year, it's not the only destination where previous land-only travelers have opted for a cruise.
When Kim Launer, an advisor at Royal Travel, a Signature member agency, was asked to price out a land trip to the Canadian Rockies trip vs an Alaska cruise, the cruise won out.
"I priced out some land arrangements with train travel and land and then compared it to a cruise," Launer told TMR. "Within two weeks, I closed six [cruise] sales to Alaska."
The cruise was with Regent Seven Seas and when she compared the land vacation – including transfers, a collection of four- and five-star hotels, and other land program components – to the cruise, the value was clear.
"The cruise lines pretty much match [pricing] but when you have a cruise on these luxury lines you have your excursions, you have your food," and, she added, you're likely to have a beverage package.
"With the luxury cruise lines, when you peel back what's included… you can truly see that value," added Lars Federhar, owner of Alternative Travel Services, a member of the Travel Leaders Network. "My business has almost doubled with Celebrity this year for the fact of their promotion, which includes gratuities, an included drink package, and more. It makes it easier to say, here's that value."
Launer had a similar request for a land program in Australia and New Zealand that also turned into cruise booking, again with Regent.
Federhar told TMR he has had some success shifting clients to the water, as well, though in his case it's been to European river cruising. He doesn't only attribute the shift to high land prices, however.
"I think people are looking for what is new and have heard from their friends that have done it… With that being said, two of the river cruises that I sold this year, I did put a land package together and then propose a river cruise."
Choice of cruise line key
All of the advisors that TMR spoke with emphasized how important the cruise line is when moving someone who initially wanted an FIT land vacation to a cruise.
"I don't think people are saying, 'I can't afford FITs so I'm going on Carnival," LaDell told TMR.
While LaDell moved her clients from land to Celebrity and Disney, Hughes said she believes the move from land to cruise only makes sense for her clients with lines like Regent, Seabourn, and Silversea Cruises, where excursions are included.
Launer also will only consider the smaller luxury lines.
"If people are used to staying at a Four Seasons or a Ritz-Carlton, you have to go to a luxury line," she told TMR. "You can't do the in-between lines, because you're not comparing apples to apples and they're not going to be happy, with service primarily."
She added that the size of the ship also matters.
"Everybody wants these smaller ships. Nobody wants these large 5,000 passenger ships."
Among the clients who have elected to cruise this summer rather than pay the exorbitant land prices are many who have never cruised before – and have never before been willing to even consider a cruise.
"When you take somebody who is a land traveler, an FIT type, most people will say cruising is not for me," Hughes said. "You have to spell out the value of it for them."
Such was the case with the two families that asked LaDell to plan their summer travel.
"These were families that had not done cruises and they did not like cruising," she said. When all was said and her clients were back from their cruises, they found that they loved the experience, LaDell added.
All the advisors TMR spoke with mentioned the perk of unpacking only once as part of their value proposition. So are the inclusions, ranging from meal and beverages to excursions (depending on the cruise line).
"A lot of the higher-end ships are now doing longer port times," Hughes added. "That helps tremendously when people feel like they can get a full day out of it."
Not all of the clients that Launer shifted to cruises were first-time cruisers, but those that were, she said, were intrigued by what they could get for their money.
"In looking at what people could get for their money, I noticed that people are taking a look to see if they can get more," she told TMR.
For instance, in some cases the cruise lines offer free (restricted) airfare.
"Sometimes that's a couple thousand dollars savings per person or people are able to buy business class vs. economy for the same price," she said.
Federhar told TMR he doesn't accept the cruise line's restricted air, but will use the credit the cruise lines will give clients in lieu of air as a sales tactic.
"If we don't take the air, they're going to give you a credit of $3,000 or whatever it may be."