Cruising Rough Seas

Overall, the news from this year's Cruise3Sixty conference is good and the state of the cruise industry is strong, according to executives, however everyone here seems to be talking about the worsening economy.

By: Kenneth Shapiro

I’m writing this from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where CLIA’s annual Cruise3Sixty conference is taking place. Over 1,500 agents, the most ever for this event, are here for three days of seminars, panels, ship inspections, trade shows and networking.

The overall news at the conference is good and the state of the cruise industry is strong, according to executives however, everyone seems to be talking about the worsening economy. In his opening remarks, Peter Ueberroth warned the crowd that the country is probably in for “several years” of a down economy and challenged agents to recognize change, be competitive and grow the industry.

“You’re powerful together and weak apart,” he said.

Ueberroth, a former travel agent himself and currently on the board of directors for Ambassadors International, Inc., the parent company of Majestic America Line, pointed out that the real threat to agents is not from other agents fighting over the same 20 percent of repeat cruise business, but from a failure to reach out as a whole to the 80 percent of consumers that have never taken a cruise.

In fact, with tough times ahead, one of the important markers for how well an agency stays afloat may just be its ability to appeal to first-time cruisers. With that in mind, I asked Lynne Biggar, senior vice president and general manager of U.S. Consumer Travel at American Express, what she’s recommending her agents focus on in tough times.

“It’s just so important to make sure you match the right client with the right product,” she said. “Focus your efforts on ‘likely cruisers.’ Take advantage of all the opportunities and tools available to you. And realize what your clients might be feeling now if they are nervous or concerned about the economy, they could need more understanding.”

This issue’s cover story, A Recipe for Fun, features a niche that has been important to the cruise lines for a while. Learning vacations come in a wide variety of types, from cooking classes to scuba lessons to guest lecturers, and cruises regularly feature all these and more. It’s a great selling point for clients that want to break away from the standard fare and it may be another reason why the cruise lines are so optimistic about the future. K.S.