Special Report: Package customers turn to cruise for personal touch

Special Report: Package customers turn to cruise for personal touch

Clia’s annual cruise review reveals record numbers of UK passengers, Natasha Salmon looks at cruise’s growing popularity among package holidaymakers

Cruises can offer an alternative to package holidays as customers focus on inclusivity and revisit favoured destinations, industry experts say.

New figures show one in nine cruise customers in 2016 were former package holidaymakers and 53% chose destination as one of the top three priorities when booking a cruise.

Following Clia’s annual cruise review, Giles Hawke, chief executive of Cosmos Tours and Avalon Waterways, said cruise could be the new ‘package alternative’.

He said: “In the past few years package numbers have stayed the same but there will now be a shift to cruise.

“Cruise agents and operators are creating options for customers, allowing them to have a cruise as part of a wider holiday.”

Meeting needs

Andy Harmer, Clia’s senior vice-president for membership and director for UK and Ireland, said it was also about customers wanting ‘personalised’ experiences.

“People want their needs and party sizes met, as well as the peace of mind that once the holiday is booked it includes spending budget,” he said.

Clia’s review revealed customers’ top three reasons for choosing a cruise were destination or itinerary (53%), a previous sailing with the line (42%) and value (34%).

Phil Nuttall, managing director of The Cruise Village, said: “There is a package element to cruising as people look to inclusivity, but for most customers it is about their favourite destinations and ships.”

First-time cruisers were down 2% on last year to 31%, but Clia chairman Stuart Leven said agents were “hitting the mark” by finding customers’ best options as repeat business rises.

Leven, vice-president of Europe, Middle East and Africa for Royal Caribbean Cruises, said: “People who have cruised once want to cruise again, but it’s the travel trade that is getting the cruise choice right to begin with.”

Fly-cruises remain the most popular, but ex-UK itineraries hit a record high with 48.3% of passengers choosing to sail from one of the UK’s 19 ports.

Harmer said ex-UK has grown “dramatically” in the past five years as people seek to start holidays closer to home.

Hawke said an increase in ocean lines sailing from UK ports was a “great sign” and the competition has “driven huge innovation”.

Advance bookings

Nuttall said agents had driven UK customers to book earlier, with many doing so up to two years in advance. Clia figures found 48% of passengers booked between six months to more than a year ahead of their cruise.

River cruise was actively sold by 80% of travel agents in 2016, an 11% increase on 2015.

Harmer said this was “incredibly exciting” and that he has seen growing confidence and knowledge among agents, while Leven said river cruising remains a “few years behind” but will catch up as agents’ understanding improves.

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