CLIA’s National Plan a Cruise Month is officially in full swing, offering unique offers and attractive rates—and perhaps even more importantly, a glimpse into what 2016 will bring.
Travel Market Report asked some travel industry insiders what the booking blitz portends for their business and what the tea leaves seem to indicate for the coming year.
First came a round of applause.
By putting cruise vacations in the spotlight and bringing unique experiences and offers to the attention of travelers, the month-long Cruise Lines International Association event is indeed a benefit to travel agents’ business.
“It has an enormous impact,” says independent vacation specialist Jo Ann Williams at Cruises Inc. in Manassas, VA. “Folks are tuned in to all the advertisements, especially on social media, and start to think about family vacations they can plan for 2016 or this year’s holiday travel. It definitely places urgency.”
Most agents agree that there is no better time to book a cruise than right now, and that Book a Cruise Month brings a tangible boost to their business.
“We see this normally slow time boosted by the offers cruise lines provide,” said Michael Consoli, a Cruise Planners franchise owner in Atlanta, GA. “It has a huge impact on my business.”
On the Radar for 2016: Millennials, Multigenerational, and LGBT
Cruise Month also serves as a valuable market indicator, helping agents identify key industry trends, client expectations and demographics, and hot new destinations. That in turn helps them prepare for the upcoming year.
This year, for example, in addition to seeing destinations like Alaska, the Mediterranean, Europe, and Cuba continue to gain traction, many agents happily reported that their customer bases are noticeably expanding and evolving in terms of demographics, generation, and diversity. Of particular interest are three growing segments: the notoriously hard-to-wrangle and tech-savvy Millennials, multigenerational families, and the LGBT community.
“Finally, our LGBT community has become an enormous source of business for us,” says Jerry Desmarais, a CruiseOne franchise owner in Wilton Manors, FL. “The LGBT purchase power has doubled from just 10 years ago; there’s now a $2.62 billion economic impact from LGBT weddings alone. This is a base we highly focus on.”
While families have always been a core market for cruise lines and travel agents, the growing number of multigenerational families booking cruise vacations also is on the rise as 2016 approaches, according to both groups.
“The industry in general is seeing an increase in multigenerational travel,” says Ken Muskat, executive vice president of sales, PR, and guest services of Swiss-based MSC Cruises, noting the range of amenities and offerings a cruise vacation provides for family members of all ages.
Celebrity Cruises redefines all-inclusive
Finally, it seems that travelers of all economic backgrounds are showing interest in cruises for the same basic reason: value. While a cruise may not be cheap, its all-inclusive nature holds down costs, simplifies budgeting, and limits surprise expenses. From luxury European river cruises to family-friendly voyages on mass-market lines, agents are seeing a resurgence in customer interest.
“More and more people are starting to see the value in cruising,” says Cruise Inc.’s Williams. “It has become an all-inclusive option that is steadily growing over land options.”
But even while the luxury river lines like Viking and Regent Seven Seas have exploded in popularity and are a personal favorite of hers, Ensemble member Stephanie Turner, CTC, thinks the cruise industry in 2016 really will come back to its core offering: overall value wrapped neatly in a truly all-inclusive price.
“I don’t think river cruising is going to continue to have the spike it’s been having,” said Turner, who’s president of Brentwood Travel Service, Inc., in St. Louis, MO. “Some of the products have gotten expensive and I think we are going to see a little bit of a leveling there.”
Instead, she sees clients edging toward the easy-to-understand pricing that drew customers to cruising in the first place.
“People like to pay for their trip, and be done with it,” Turner said.
While many lines have gotten a bit greedy in recent years, charging passengers at every turn, one in particular is leading the way back to the single bundled price that customers seem to prefer.
“The most brilliant cruise line, I think, is Celebrity,” she said. “It is doing an amazing job with value-add packages, putting a different spin on all-inclusive. People don’t want to come back to thousands of dollars in bills. They are brilliant and now all the other lines are copying them.”
Pic: Roger W