It’s all too easy to focus on flight and hotel combinations when it comes to dynamic packaging. But if you’re neglecting the cruise sector you’re missing out on a massive opportunity.
Huge numbers of holidaymakers today enjoy fun and adventurous holidays at sea. According to the Passenger Shipping Association, 1.62 million Britons took a cruise in 2010, a 6% increase on 2009.
The cruise industry now is a far cry from a sector that was once seen as a bit old and boring. The public’s appetite for holidays on their own terms hasn’t diminished either: they want greater choice and flexibility. So it’s no surprise that these two elements combined have seen a growth in dynamically packaged cruises.
The sector has attracted entrants such as Cruisingexcursions.com, a Birmingham-based company that sells add-on shore excursions, although Shorex Travel, a pre and post-cruise add-on specialist, ceased trading last week.
Meanwhile, cruise companies are stepping into the arena. Princess Cruises now offers Flight Select, a system that allows agents to tailor packages, including flight options and pre and post-cruise stays. And Traveltek has its iCruise platform, which goes directly into cruise companies’ reservations systems and enables agents to build a package.
For many agents, the decision about whether to dynamically package a cruise comes down to the customer.
Jamie Loizou, marketing director at retailer Mundy Cruising, says: “We deal with the top end of the market. Our clients want what they want. If it doesn’t fall within what is offered by the cruise line, we do quite a lot of tailor-making. More than 50% of our business is tailor-made.”
On the flip side, Loizou says Mundy also has customers who are adamant they want to travel with the cruise line for the whole trip. “With issues in the past such as the ash cloud, people want that security – if there is a problem, some feel more secure that the ship will wait or send them to the next port of call,” he adds.
The same customer demands can be found at Imagine Cruising in Swindon. Managing director Robin Deller says dynamic packaging accounts for about half its sales, but there are also clients who like to book their whole holiday through one cruise line.
Dynamically packaging a cruise can bring many benefits to the agent as well as the customer. An obvious one is that agents have the opportunity to build on pre or post-cruise stays, and therefore earn more commission.
Phil Nuttall, managing director of the Cruise Village in Blackpool, says: “One of the reasons agents dynamically package is because the commission levels are higher than those that some of the cruise lines pay. You have got to weigh up the risks and responsibilities.”
In addition to earning more commission, there is the perceived value to the customer. Deller explains: “By the time you fly clients to a destination, the additional cost to incorporate a stay is fairly insignificant compared to the overall cost, so the value for money shouts out. The cruise customer is starting from a high-cost holiday anyway so the extra two nights in Hong Kong, for example, don’t double the cost, but the perceived value of this is greater.”
Likewise, building a bespoke cruise holiday can introduce new clientele to different ships. Nicki Tempest-Mitchell, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s head of trade sales for the UK and Ireland, says: “People who dynamically package can open us up to new sets of customers who don’t go on package holidays. Holidays are very precious and if people can squeeze an extra day out of their holiday there will be a demand for that.”
Dynamically packaging cruise also helps agents get over the hurdle of departure points, particularly for people in the north of England and Scotland, who may want to fly from a local airport. Deller says: “People from Manchester want to fly from Manchester and they expect us to solve that problem.”
However, the benefits have to be weighed against the responsibility an agent takes on if they dynamically package. They become the principal and are therefore responsible for getting the client on the cruise in the event of a flight delay or other hitch.
Nuttall points out that many agents try to avert problems such as this by recommending their clients fly to their departure port a day or two before their cruise sets sail.
However, shore excursions run to a tighter schedule, and agents who book these independently must ensure their clients are back on the ship on time. Cruise lines, unsurprisingly, are therefore keen for passengers to book their own excursions.
Paul Ludlow, UK director of Princess Cruises, says: “We always prefer customers to book our shore excursions. If a customer chooses to make their own choices that’s their own risk.”
Tempest-Mitchell says that with agents who do dynamically package, Royal Caribbean asks them to explain to customers who is responsible for which sector of the journey, particularly in relation to shore excursions. “We ask that agents are completely upfront with customers – we trust them to advise clients of this,” she adds.
Loizou says Mundy Cruising organises its own shore excursions in some destinations for customers with particular requests, such as a private car, adding: “Often we know people who can sneak clients into a museum or gallery where the crowds aren’t able to queue-jump.
“Although the cruise lines offer great excursions, sometimes people want a private experience.”
Most cruise lines don’t buy in airlift for all the berths on their ships, so there will always be a market for cruise-only products that can be packaged up.
This is a community-moderated forum.
All post are the individual views of the respective commenter and are not the expressed views of Travel Weekly.
By posting your comments you agree to accept our Terms & Conditions.