July 21, 2024

Adventure Destinations League

Navigating Travel Wonders

6 ways travel agents can boost their cruise business

Shifting demographics, an uptick in expedition popularity and consumers booking earlier are just some of the trends identified during this year’s CLIA Conference

More than 800 travel agent and cruise line delegates descended on Southampton on Thursday (23 May) for the start of this year’s event, which took place in the port city’s Guildhall.

The theme was #DiscoverMore, with content focussed on the destinations which cruise lines sail to and how agents can use shoreside experiences to convince their customers to try a holiday-at-sea for the first time.

After a day of business sessions, agents attended a trade fair to learn more about the CLIA global fleet from suppliers including A-Rosa River Cruises, Cunard, P&O Cruises and Windstar Cruises.

The message from the CLIA Conference was clear. The pent-up demand following the pandemic has not subsided, and the cruise industry is poised for continued periods of record-breaking bookings and all-time high revenues.

Here are six key trends revealed during the conference to help you boost your cruise business.

Cruise guests are getting younger

According to CLIA Global president Kelly Craighead, cruise customers are getting younger, with 88 per cent of millennial travellers and 86 per cent of Gen X holidaymakers who have cruised before planning to cruise again.

The average age of cruise passengers is getting younger and younger, and we’re welcoming new people to the sector all the time

“To cater to this broadening market, cruise lines are investing in fabulous new ships, while at the same time maintaining and upgrading their existing fleets,” she told delegates.

Paul Ludlow, Carnival UK and P&O Cruises president, echoed Craighead, explaining how P&O’s average consumer age has gone from 53 to 47 in recent years. “The average age of cruise passengers is getting younger and younger, and we’re welcoming new people to the sector all the time.”

Adventure travel is becoming more popular

Mel Evens, partnerships and projects editor for Mail Metro Media reported that the brand is seeing more engagement with content focussed on adventure and expedition cruising.

“People love cultural experiences and doing things that have never been done before,” she said. “I think people want new and exciting, and we’re seeing higher engagement in this area.”

Phil Hullah, CEO of Riviera Travel, advised agents to capitalise on this by waxing lyrical about the shoreside excursions guests can experience. “Make sure people know that river cruising is a unique opportunity to combine exploration with genuine relaxation,” he added.

Consumers are booking earlier

“People are booking earlier than ever before,” added Ludlow, who reported P&O Cruises broke booking records in the weeks following the launch of its summer 2026 deployment.

“People know what they want – whether that be certain suites or destinations – and are ready to book early to get them,” he continued.

He also said seasonality is important when it comes to attracting new passengers. “The shoulder seasons are usually more popular with repeat customers and the peak seasons are more popular with new guests,” he said.

New-to-cruise is on the rise

Virgin Voyages CEO Nirmal Saverimuttu said, contrary to popular beliefs about the brand, the line is attracting a high rate of new-to-cruise guests.

About 60 per cent of our customers are completely new to cruise

Meanwhile, Craighead reported travellers’ intent to cruise is continuing to track higher than it was in 2019, both among travellers who have cruised before and those who haven’t.

Hullah echoed the duo and claimed river was “uniquely suited” when it comes to attracting new to cruise customers. “About 60 per cent of our customers are completely new to cruise,” he explained.

General election could impact cruise industry

Earlier this week prime minister Rishi Sunak announced a general election for the UK on 4 July 2024 and if Labour come into power after 14 years of Conservative rule, new partnerships will need to be forged by the heads of the cruise industry.

“The work this industry did with the government through the pandemic and the years that followed was fantastic,” said Ludlow. “We built some very strong relationships with ministers and we have thrived as result.

“I don’t know what will happen in the next general election, but it’s likely we will have to start again. We don’t see it as a bad thing, but we are going to have to start those relationships up again.”

Value proposition continues to reign supreme

The key to attracting new clients is breaking down the cost of a holiday-at-sea compared to a land-based trip to highlight the value for money of a cruise break.

It is more critical than ever to share the value for money in cruise, especially when prices in the package holiday market are increasing

This was the message from P&O Cruises vice president of sales Rob Scott. “The barriers to cruise have not changed,” he said. “We don’t talk about the P word – we talk about value for money.

“This is where agents come in. It is more critical than ever to share the value for money in cruise, especially when prices in the package holiday market are increasing.”

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