The cruise industry is anticipating a strong sales year. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Feature image (above): Though an increased number of people are cruising, they remain interested in closer markets such as the Caribbean, Mexico and Alaska. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) most recent study on the cruise industry indicates that around 23 million people are projected to cruise by sea this year, a 4 percent increase over 2014. The “2014 North American Cruise Market Profile Report” had other positive news to share: The cruise vacation was ranked highest as the best overall vacation type. The majority of cruisers (69 percent) believe that cruising is a better value than land-based vacations.
CLIA surveyed approximately 1,600 past cruisers in the U.S. and Canada last August, and the results are extremely useful to help agents identify potential cruisers and cruise trends.
Adam Goldstein, chairman of CLIA and the president and COO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., attributes industry growth to innovative ships and expanded itineraries worldwide, calling in nearly 1,000 ports. CLIA member cruise lines are scheduled to debut 22 new ocean, river and specialty ships in 2015, for a total investment of more than $4 billion.
According to the report, cruisers were interested in traveling to a variety of destinations, but mostly to nearby locations. The Caribbean and Eastern Mexico were the leading destinations (32 percent). The Bahamas and Alaska followed, with 20 percent of respondents indicating that they planned to cruise these regions. Hawaii and Northern and Western Europe rounded out the top five destinations.
The Mediterranean continues to grow as a destination, as well as other regions including Asia and Australia. This year, 52 ships will provide 1,065 Asian cruises with capacity for 2.17 million passengers.
In terms of cruise length, the weeklong cruise still dominates. Fifty-three percent of those polled took a six- to eight-day cruise, but a quarter of the group cruised shorter itineraries of three to five days. Only 3 percent of respondents took cruises longer than 16 days.
Cruise Passenger Demographics
The average age of today’s cruiser is 49, but the spread is huge: One-quarter of cruisers are in the 30-39 age group, and another one-quarter is in the 50-59 age range. In addition, 25 percent are in the 60-74 age group. In other words, in today’s market, it's not just retirees who are taking cruises — 72 percent are currently employed.
In terms of financial status, one-third of cruisers earned $100,000 to $199,000 annually. Some 28 percent fell into the $60,000-69,000 income range.
Significantly, first-time cruisers accounted for 38 percent of cruise travelers.
The Role of Travel Agents
Sixty-seven percent of those polled used a travel advisor to plan their cruises, and 70 percent used an advisor to book their vacations. Satisfaction ratings were favorable for travel planners as well, with 64 percent of clients reporting a high level of satisfaction.
Notably, respondents still thought they got the best pricing through online channels — a strong argument for an online presence for travel planners, since consumers didn’t differentiate between online agencies and other sources on the Web.
A number of factors were considered when clients selected their cruise, and this particular area is where the knowledge of a travel planner is key. When weighing cruise options, clients placed cost and destination as top factors in their selection. Entertainment ranked among the top amenities cited by travelers who wanted shows and revues as well as well-known productions familiar and available on land. Another important factor in the decision-making process was stateroom accommodations. Two-thirds of respondents cited that suites and balconies were essential amenities.
Clearly, with new ships sailing the oceans; a dizzying amount of amenities and entertainment choices that continue to evolve; and itineraries that circumnavigate the planet, there are tremendous opportunities for travel agents in 2015.
“From new ports around the globe to the investment by CLIA’s member cruise lines in new, innovative ships, it’s an exciting time for the cruise industry and for cruisers,” Goldstein said. “This year will prove to be another step forward for the entire industry as our members continue to strive to make cruising the best overall vacation experience.”