On the Bright Side

A new survey reveals that the cruise industry is alive and well

By: By Marilyn Green


The Caribbean is one of the industry’s top destinations. // © Photos.comThe Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) biannual Cruise Market Profile Study indicates that, despite an economic downturn and fuel prices that have risen 70 percent year over year, the future of cruising looks bright. Seventy-seven percent of past cruise vacationers and 55 percent of vacationers who have yet to take a cruise expressing interest in doing so within the next three years.

The survey of American consumers 25 years and older with minimum household income of $40,000 analyzes consumer demographics, attitudes and intentions as they relate to leisure travel and specifically to cruising. Research was conducted online in March and April 2008 by TNS, the largest custom research company in the world.

In 2007, CLIA lines carried 12.6 million passengers. Of these 76 percent of the total, or 9.6 million, were Americans. Using the “most likely” projection formula, which has been very accurate in the past, the study indicates that 33.7 million Americans intend to cruise within the next three years, which would break down to 11.3 million per year. CLIA analysts say this should lead to healthy growth, since demand will outstrip capacity increases.

Travel agents continue to play an important role in planning and booking cruises and travel. Although 74 percent of cruisers reported that they used agents for some of their cruise bookings, Bob Sharak, CLIA executive vice president, marketing and distribution, said he thought there was confusion about which online bookings were agented and which were not, and that the true agent share is more like 85 percent. Among those consumers who used agents, 70 percent reported that professional designations influenced their choice.

The percentage of respondents who say agents provide the best service is up from 40 percent in 2006 to 42 percent in 2008. Fifty-nine percent are extremely or very satisfied with agents, with overall satisfaction at 93 percent; 78 percent of cruisers use travel agents for all types of travel planning, as compared to 44 percent of non-cruise vacationers.

Several survey responses made it clear that online presence is vital to agents, as consumer telephone contact with agents continued to decline in favor of e-mail and other Web-based communication.

Nearly 95 percent of all cruisers rate their cruise experience as satisfying, with 44 percent choosing Extremely Satisfying, making a cruise experience, along with all-inclusive resorts, tops at pleasing the customer.

The general profile of the 2008 cruise vacationer is upscale (with a median household income of $93,000), educated (69 percent have a college degree) and the median age of cruisers is now 46 years old, down from 49 in 2006, which shows that cruise vacations continue to appeal to younger travelers. Similar to past surveys, this one found that 89 percent of cruisers were Caucasian.

Travelers, including cruisers, said they consider destination the most influential aspect of choosing a vacation. They most frequently named the Caribbean as their cruise destination of choice (43 percent) but Alaska, Bahamas, Hawaii, Europe and the Mediterranean/Greek islands were also top choices. 38 percent of cruisers said they returned to destinations they had first visited on a cruise.

The study found that cruisers clearly recognize the value aspect of cruise vacations. Consumer awareness of 32 domestic embarkation ports is an important factor in perceiving that value; 72 percent cited additional “close to home” ports as increasing their likelihood to cruise. Respondents stressed the convenience of being able to drive to the ship (71 percent), saving money by not having to purchase air travel (67 percent) and avoiding the hassles of flying to embarkation points (64 percent) as primary benefits of close to home cruising options.

Cruisers travel 39 percent more per year than non-cruisers, they take 2.9 annual leisure trips on all types of vacations by both land and sea (21 percent or nearly one in four of their vacations are by cruise) and they typically spend 50 percent more on their vacation travel than a non-cruise vacationer.

Typical vacationers, including cruisers (75 percent), travel in pairs, usually with spouses, with the proportion of family travel with kids under 18 steadily growing (25 percent in 2008 from 13 percent in 2002).