The UK might be in the grip of a deep recession, but Holland America Line is having its best year ever in terms of sales in the UK as agents make use of the low prices on offer to get clients cruising.
HAL managing director UK Lynn Narraway said: “The unusual state of our economy means there are some great deals out there and agents have really got behind the brand. We could benefit from the financial situation if people start to downgrade from the ultra-luxury ships.”
Just 7% of HAL’s business is non-US; Narraway hopes to push this up to 20% over the next three years with the help of the trade and more consumer advertising.
Narraway said there has never been a better time to book a cruise. “Compared with a land-based holiday, a cruise is incredible value. These are prices we’ll never see again. If people have the money they might as well spend it now, because it’s not earning them anything.”
She quoted the example of a four-night mini-cruise from Dover on Eurodam from July 6-10 this summer – £798 for two people, with all meals and entertainment included – against the same four nights at Center Parcs’ Elvedon Forest site in Suffolk.
Center Parcs’ base price is cheaper – £450 for a one-bed self-catering unit – but everything bar the swimming pool costs extra. Assuming it costs another £400 for four evening meals and breakfasts for two, bike hire and other activities, the cost is £850 for two, making the cruise a better buy.
Narraway added: “Eurodam not only costs less, but clients also get to visit Bruges, Cherbourg and St Peter Port in Guernsey.”
While Europe is good value, some of HAL’s best deals are on exotic cruises, with Australia and New Zealand this autumn from £70 per person per day, excluding flights, and South America a similar price.
Narraway said: “This is the time for clients to do the dream cruise they thought they could never afford, especially as there are some terrific flight deals as well. Agents should suggest exotic cruises to all their clients, and phone regular customers with the deals.”
The ‘value’ message has been played a lot by the cruiselines since the recession hit and they are cutting prices to get people booking.
Cunard president and managing director Carol Marlow said all the evidence shows that people still want a holiday, but they are looking for value – a point demonstrated last week, when new ship Queen Elizabeth’s 13-night maiden voyage to the Canary Islands in October 2010 sold out in just 29 minutes.
The inaugural cruise was on sale from £1,489 per person, or less than £115 per person per day, including all meals. That’s less than one night room-only at the five-star Hotel Ambasciatori in Rome (see Cunard’s Queen Victoria comparisons).
Go River Cruise franchisee James Hill, in Malvern, Worcestershire, said new clients balk at the cost of a river cruise but accept it is good value when he explains what’s included compared with a land-based holiday.
He said: “Consumers appreciate that you can pay up front in sterling and are not hammered by having to buy food and, in most cases, excursions. A 12-night river cruise
in Russia is fantastic value as you have three days each in Moscow and St Petersburg, where the hotels are now hugely expensive.”
He said the value message is helped by low air fares. “I just booked a cruise from Amsterdam to Basle. The return air fare with British Airways was just £89.”
MSC Cruises chairman UK and Ireland Peter Pate said: “This year more than ever agents are using the value message to make a sale. The good cruise agents are not only getting the message across but persuading clients to trade up.”
Pate admitted the up-front cost of a cruise can be a barrier to people who have never cruised and don’t understand what’s included.
He said: “I remember talking to a man at a consumer travel show who said he couldn’t afford a cruise. He had gone to Barbados for his last holiday. The flight and accommodation was less than a cruise, but I asked how much he spent on food and drink. After thinking about it, he admitted it would have been cheaper to take a cruise.”
- Read Jane Archer’s blog at travelweekly.co.uk/cruiselines
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