Despite safety and PR issues for the cruise industry this year, a new survey of leisure travel agents finds that cruise sales remain strong – especially for small ship and river cruises.
In a survey of nearly 250 American Express travel consultants across the U.S., a surprising 85% said their cruise sales had been unaffected by industry events.
Interest in small ships and river cruises was especially keen. More than one-quarter, 27%, of agents surveyed saw increased demand for river cruises, while 38% saw an increase in client request for small ship cruises.
“Small ship experiences are seeing the most demand,” said Tony Gonchar, vice president of American Express Travel, during his keynote presentation at cruise3sixty in Vancouver.
“The great news about this industry is there is a cruise experience for everyone – from the launch of new mega-ships to the increased popularity of river cruising,” said Gonchar.
In terms of destinations, Gonchar noted that “Mediterranean and European river cruises are most popular.”
Italy’s Po River, the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia, and the Amazon River were their most-requested river destinations, Amex agents said.
Advice: Go for the up-sell
As expected, balcony staterooms were clients’ most-requested room category, according to 75% of agents surveyed.
More than two-thirds saw an increase in demand for higher-end room categories, especially suites and penthouse staterooms.
“68% of customers are asking for higher-end staterooms, so why not ask them first?” proposed Gonchar. “Ask for the up-sell and referrals to other cruisers. You may be amazed at what happens.”
Half of the American Express agents surveyed said onboard credit is the most common request from clients.
Un-train your clients
Overall, travelers remain extremely value-conscious, agents said.
“The challenge is that the customer is waiting for a price drop,” said Gonchar. “We have to find a way to un-train them, specifically on the waiting game, rebating and price undercutting.”
Gonchar advised agents to “know who you’re selling to.”
“It pays to know your customers deeply, so you can probe their demographic for social and cultural needs.”
As technology changes how consumers research their trips, agents need to adapt so their services continue to be of value, Gonchar suggested.
“We have seen a fundamental change in the way consumers are purchasing,” said Gonchar. “Your customers have become digital omnivores, consuming information across several devices all day.”
His advice? “Give them something they can’t Google.”