As the consumer market for luxury cruises matures – and the cruise lines’ diversify their product and pricing models to meet demand – times are good for luxury cruise sellers.
Agents report brisk sales. They also note an ever-lengthening booking window, as clients look to secure a space in the face of tight supply.
Luxury cruising, and especially luxury river cruising, is becoming more attractive for vacationers who have more time and money to spend on a trip, regardless of their demographic, agents told Travel Market Report.
Clients are booking far into 2016. And they’re taking advantage of the greater choice offered by today’s luxury lines – ocean and river cruise alike.
“The luxury market is maturing,” said Eric Goldring, owner of Goldring Travel in Colts Neck, N.J. “The market is 20 years old, and that’s about a generation; people now in their 60s and 70s have done the traditional luxury cruise, and they are looking for something new.”
In search of variety
“Many of my clients are those who have ‘been there and done that,’” said Mike Brill, a Cruise Planners agent from Palm Springs, Calif. “They’re looking for something more intimate and unique.”
Luxury vacationers have already been to Europe, long the go-to destination for luxury cruises, and now they want something more exotic – and that’s benefitting travel agents.
“Our business has really been driven by what is new and different. Luxury is moving toward new destinations,” said Scott Caddow, owner of Legendary World.
At the same time, Caddow said, “most of our clients are pretty brand-loyal, so they want the same cruise experience” – to new parts of the world.
Mediterranean always strong
Michael Consoli, a Cruise Planners agent in Roswell, Ga., said that for him “Mediterranean cruises always seem to be the biggest draw for the luxury market.” Certainly for clients new to luxury cruising, Europe remains a solid bet.
But Consoli said he is also seeing “big interest in the Galapagos because of the environmental regulations and changes coming to that area of the world in the next few years.”
Agents also mentioned Antarctica, the Arctic Circle, Africa and South America as attractive new destinations for the more-experienced luxury cruiser.
The booking window for luxury cruises remains long due to strong demand coupled with limited product.
Some luxury clients are so concerned they’ll miss out on their preferred cruise that they’re making deposits on multiple cruises, and deciding later which of the trips they’ll actually take.
“My clients will book two or three cruises and end up taking one or two cruises in the end,” said Caddow. “Cruisers are getting smarter about itineraries they book.”
In response, some cruise lines are tightening their policies on refundable deposits to try and rein in this type of shopping.
“Cruise lines are now trying to combat people who have a history of cancelling,” said Goldring. “Lines like Regent and Oceania have increased the cancellation penalties, even right from the start.
“But I’m still seeing lots of bookings made far in advance,” Goldring added.
While pricing is slightly up, luxury lines are also driving revenue by offering cruise passengers more opportunities to pre-book add-on packages and excursions.
“The lines are trying to make the more-upscale product all-inclusive, by making you buy before you get onboard,” said Mary Ann Strasheim, ACC, owner of Custom Cruises & Travel, an Ensemble agency, in Omaha..
By adding value to their cruises with new initiatives, the lines are doing an effective job of attracting demand. And the adds-on are usually commissionable.
“Regent is one of the better all-inclusive values,” said Caddow.
The all-inclusive packaging appeals especially to those who like to integrate land tours with their luxury cruise experience, as well as to customers who are used to paying for everything upfront.
“We have clients who move to a cruise from land vacations, and they would rather just have everything paid for” instead of paying as they go, Caddow said.
Some luxury lines are adapting their itineraries to include longer port stays in a response to travelers’ desire for more in-depth experiences of destinations during a cruise.
“Most luxury travelers don’t want to move from place to place on land, but they do want to get a taste of the culture and say they’ve been to a destination,” said Goldring.
“Cruise lines are also doing more over-nighting because it is a cost-savings for them, since they’re not moving the ship,” Goldring said.
Pricing remains solid
Today’s luxury cruise clients are willing to spend more, according to agents, and the lines are rolling out longer, and more expensive, itineraries to take advantage. This means higher commissions for agents.
“More lines are beginning to offer world cruises,” said Strasheim. “Retirees have more time on their hands, and they are asking why they should buy a winter home when they can travel the world instead.”
To entice would-be cruisers looking for a deal, the luxury lines are throwing in value-adds, rather than lowering prices, agents noted.
“The luxury lines are masters at adding value to this product without degrading their pricing model,” said Consoli. “So they are offering air incentives, free hotel nights, Internet packages and onboard credits to encourage early bookings.”