2014 was a strong year for cruising, with safety concerns being mostly minimized and increased demand in the U.S. being captured in the Caribbean and other regions. Group sales boomed, while booking windows lengthened. Pricing, however, remained stagnant as cruisers continued to take advantage of steep discounting.
But what is in store for the cruise industry in 2015? Travel Market Report asked cruise industry executives to reflect on the events of 2014, and cast a critical eye toward the opportunities of 2015.
2014 was good… but not great
“In 2014, the industry did experience some pricing pressures in the Caribbean, which required the cruise lines, including MSC, to be more aggressive and price driven. This was due to a number of factors including extra capacity, the economy and the fact that many North Americans have started booking Caribbean cruises closer to the sail date.
“That said, at the same time, we experienced North Americans booking their non-Caribbean cruises further out and paying non-discounted prices. Guests looking to sail abroad were more focused on the destination and thus, helped fill ships at more traditional yield levels.” --Ken Muskat, executive vice president of sales, PR and guest services, MSC Cruises USA
“Increased capacity in the Caribbean helped drive a very solid increase in transactions.”--David Crooks, senior vice president of product and operations, World Travel Holdings
“In 2014, Carnival was named the most-improved U.S. brand in consumer perception, or “buzz,” in YouGov’s BrandIndex Buzz Rankings Report. This improvement was correlated to a series of industry-first product innovations and marketing initiatives that resonated positively in the marketplace. We anticipate these trends will continue to resonate strongly with consumers.”--Joni Rein, vice president of worldwide sales, Carnival Cruise Line
Groups and value adds
“For 2015 we see strong added value offers being very appealing to consumers, hence the launch of our Freestyle Choice promotion that runs through Jan. 31. We will see continued innovation in the new capacity that is being introduced by us with Norwegian Escape and with competitors.” --Andy Stuart, executive vice president of sales, Norwegian Cruise Line
“In 2015, group sales will be a huge money maker. Cruise Planners has embraced and seen a lot of success with its “Come Sail Away with Me” program. Agents are encouraged to gather a group of travelers and invite people to travel with them. By offering group deals, travel agents can earn a higher commission while usually doing the same amount of research, pitching and selling as they would for 1 cabin. And traveling with clients adds to customer loyalty and increases repeat sales.”--Vicky Garcia, chief operating officer and co-owner, Cruise Planners
“We are seeing the industry create more programs and marketing for Millennials. For the most part, once someone tries cruising, they are hooked and will cruise again and again creating life-long loyal cruisers. First-timers are a main focus and a key factor to continued capacity growth."--David Crooks, World Travel Holdings
What consumers want
“North American consumers are increasingly interested in visiting new destinations and having the opportunity to truly experience the destination. In 2015 you’ll see more cruise lines offering late night stays and unique shore excursions that provide guests a full immersion into the region they are visiting.”--Ken Muskat, MSC Cruises USA
Pricing could strengthen in 2015
“We should see a measured improvement in Caribbean pricing as some inventory leaves the region. The river industry will experience double-digit ship growth in 2015, and continues to experience robust growth across the globe.
“We are keeping an eye on a big capacity increase in 2015 out of Texas (Houston/Galveston) to Eastern and Western Caribbean, which will provide a much greater selling opportunity in a growth market. 2015 will see a measured increase of capacity back into Europe and Mediterranean itineraries.”--David Crooks, World Travel Holdings