Comment: Day of reckoning looms for UK cruise sector

Comment: Day of reckoning looms for UK cruise sector

Miles Morgan managing director of Miles Morgan Travel asks with big new ships coming to the UK, can market sustain growth?

After years of hype and possibly false dawns, the day of reckoning for the cruise industry appears to be on its way. The upcoming arrivals of the much-talked-about P&O Cruises ship Iona and two Celebrity Cruises vessels, all to sail from the UK from 2019 and 2020, and with Royal Caribbean and MSC unlikely to take a step back, means growth of the ex-UK cruise market becomes a must, not a hope.

Many cruises lines underpin their growth plans with the statistic that only 2% of holidaymakers take a cruise and therefore growth should and could be easy, and I can understand that.

But two key questions remain for me: can lines attract these new-to-cruisers, but also, can they retain their existing cruise clients? On the second question, unlike land-based holidays where the choice of destination is mindblowing, there are only so many ports of call. I am seeing some avid cruise clients actually return to land-based holidays as they have ticked all those cruise port boxes, around the Med in particular.

Wow factor

This clearly shifts the focus from the itinerary to the ship, and whether the ‘wow’ on board is enough to woo them for future trips. I have to commend the cruise lines for their ingenuity. Some have gone to the extreme – think of the monster ships of P&O Cruises, MSC Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line; others in a more refined way, such as Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises. Only time will tell with the ‘monsters’ (it’s early days and people always want to try something new) but will they be repeat customers? Or will the novelty value for first-timers not last the test of time?

Shops’ guidance

The question of new-to-cruise is where I get a plug in for me and my fellow high street owners. A new-to‑cruise customer needs to be sold the concept. They will not put cruise into a Google search, nor readily respond to traditional direct mail, and might simply scroll straight past your cleverly-worded Facebook posts.

High street is where it’s at for simply talking to them and introducing the idea. What are deck plans about? Why are there so many types of cabin and such a price difference? Big ship or small? Aren’t all cruise lines the same?

Staff training holds the key to success. Clia does some excellent work in this area. If you are reading this as a high street agent and have not been to a Clia event, sign up – it will help you gain clients.

I have noticed with interest the opening of cruise-only shops. Personally, I can’t see the point. My staff have superb cruise knowledge and can sell land or cruise, cross-sell between the two and fulfil clients’ travel wishes whatever their needs year-round.

While the UK ocean cruise market looks set to top the two million mark for the first time this year, the key question is, can the surge in capacity by 2020 help the sector grow well beyond that figure? With the support of the high street, I’d say yes; otherwise, I’m really not sure. Our support from cruise lines is second to none and I am hugely looking forward to growing our cruise business over the next few years. And, if you are an agent missing out, I have no doubt the cruise lines’ doors will be open for business.

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