Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) took the pulse of the rapidly changing and growing cruise industry by surveying its agent and agency members about their outlook for the future and the emerging trends of today. A survey of nearly 1,000 North American CLIA travel professionals reveals a snapshot of the cruise landscape and points toward more varied destinations, more amazing shipboard amenities and a broadening appeal to vacationers. The agents also offered helpful advice on how consumers should plan for and enjoy their trip.
“CLIA represents 24 thriving, expanding and diverse cruise lines that, as a fleet, will introduce an additional 35 new ships of every size by 2012. CLIA members offer everything from river and coastal cruises on small ships to week-long voyages to the Caribbean, Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii and Europe on new mega liners, and even adventures in the Pacific and Antarctica, transatlantic crossings and world cruises,” said Terry L. Dale, CLIA’s president and CEO. “We wanted a different perspective on all this exciting growth. We wanted to know what consumers like, what excites them and what they expect to enjoy in the future. So, who betterto turn to than the people who know consumers, and the industry, best – the people who sell nearly 90 percent of all cruises.”
From the latest hot destinations to shipboard amenities, the survey results paint a clear picture of what factors and cruise offerings are motivating vacationers to choose a cruise over other vacation options. Virtually all the results highlight the inescapable conclusion that cruising offers more diversity of product, destinations, activities and experiences than any other form of vacation, and that adds up to unique value. They also help explain why the industry enjoys a 95 percent customer satisfaction rate.
Here are some of the highlights:
* Put aside all preconceptions; there’s a cruise experience for everyone.
The fastest growing cruise vacation groups were identified as families/multigenerational cruisers and baby boomers. Notably, first time passengers were identified as a fast-growing group as were repeat passengers, reflecting not only the initial appeal of cruises in comparison to other vacation choices, but the high satisfaction rate among those who choose to cruise again.
* Cruising is global.
According to agents, the Caribbean remains the number one cruise market in the world and continues to grow in popularity but other destinations around the world are booming as well. The Mediterranean, Alaska and Hawaii were named as the three fastest growing cruise destinations, with impressive growth indicated for Central and South America, Northern Europe and the Baltic and Australia/New Zealand.
* There’s a different cruise type for every taste, interest and budget.
While the traditional 6-8 day cruise remains the all-time favorite in terms of numbers of cruisers, travel agents reported that virtually every other type of cruise vacation is also in demand. Showing particular strength (in order of ranking) were: short cruises (3-5 days), river and coastal cruises, longer cruises (9 days or more), theme cruises, small ship cruises, and luxury voyages.
* Value is the name of the game.
The top three reasons for taking a cruise, according to respondents to the survey are, overwhelmingly: value, the opportunity to see multiple destinations in one trip, and convenience.
The value factor is reflected strongly in other findings of the survey. Consumers, by a large margin, report that the most impressive things about a cruise, in addition to visiting multiple ports, are the onboard experience, dining and entertainment – all of which are typically included in the cruise price.
What are the most popular features of that onboard experience, according to consumers? The increasing diversity and flexibility of dining options, new shipboard active-activities (bowling, ice skating, rock climbing, and aqua parks are among the latest), and connectivity (internet cafes, wireless access and other high tech innovations at sea).
But traditional creature comforts also remain high on the list with one of the top rated new amenities being the upgraded bedding found on today’s ships.
* Looking ahead to choice, choice, and more choice!
Predicting things to come, travel agents say consumers can depend on finding a cruise to perfectly match any particular interest or taste. With the dominant theme of more casual cruise lifestyles, agents expect more choice in enrichment programs, entertainment, recreational facilities (many new ships are introducing full-service luxury spas and even water parks) and especially dining. Cruisers will have more choice in restaurants, dining schedules and menus, including more healthy and/or vegetarian dishes. Passengers will also find cruise ships increasingly “connected,” enabling guests to enjoy the latest in personal technology, from cell phones to Internet cafes.
Travel agents also offered tips for getting the most out of a cruise vacation. Whether they take it for granted or simply don’t expect it, consumers agents say, sometimes don’t realize that two of the key selling points of a cruise are that there is something for everyone, regardless of age, background or interests and that cruising is ideal for families. They also point out that the old myth about gaining weight on a cruise is outdated: cruise passengers are able to eat what they want but the abundance of healthy menu and fitness choices ensures that anyone who wants to can stay in shape.
The most important tip, according to agents, is to book a cruise as early as possible. The large majority of cruisers make their decision at least five to six months out, and over half are booking cruise vacations seven months in advance or longer. And there are several reasons why: CLIA member lines’ are experiencing record demand so booking early ensures that consumers will have their choice of departure dates, itinerary and accommodations.
Agents also advise consumers to consider a pre-cruise stay in order to relax and minimize the stress of traveling to the ship; to try to upgrade their accommodations, and to pack lightly for extra convenience of travel. Finally, both travel agents and CLIA recommend that cruise passengers obtain a passport.