Uniworld’s SS Joie de Vivre sails through Paris. // © 2016 Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
Feature image (above): Silversea Cruises’ Silver Muse will update its dining options in 2017. // © 2016 SilverSea Cruises
It’s rare when travel agents and cruise line executives unanimously agree on a dominant trend in the entire cruise industry, but it happened this year. As the cruise experience continues to become much more complex on the world’s seas and rivers, industry executives and agents indicate the same overwhelming trend: greater choice.
Innovations such as Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ order-whatever-you-want policy in the dining room and Crystal River Cruises’ five lighting options in accommodations illustrate the explosion of new choices for consumers. Customers have dozens of selections to make to customize a seagoing cruise, whether they’re sailing on a contemporary line or an ultra-luxury expedition brand. River cruising is seeing everything from comprehensive butler service to dedicated hands-on culinary centers and family accommodations, and these expand the market and appeal to new cruisers.
Tom Baker, co-owner of Houston-based CruiseCenter, notes that the dramatic increase in choice on new vessels has had a domino effect, as cruise lines retrofit older ships to sustain brand consistency. For instance, Regent is investing $125 million to bring the rest of its fleet in line with options on the new Regent Seven Seas Explorer, and Holland America Line, which just launched the new Koningsdam, is updating its fleet to the tune of $300 million between 2016 and 2018.
All agree that this trend provides an unprecedented opportunity for savvy agents.
Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales for Avoya Travel, notes that the industry is moving further away from commoditization, which is good news for the agent.
“A major change is the dramatic move toward added value rather than price,” he said. “The downside is that with value, it is difficult to get the message across quickly. Everyone understands 25 percent off, but explaining value and choices is much more complex, and there is the problem of consumer attention loss.”
The customer knows everything about price and nothing about value, he says. According to Koepf, the average consumer comes to the agent with 40 hours of internet research, which results in a highly educated — but often confused — client.
Agents agree, and they are finding that clients come to them fresh from floundering in the sea of choices.
“I have had several phone calls from new prospects telling me they have tried to put a cruise together without the use of a travel agent but find all of the choices extremely confusing,” said Beth Schulberg, owner of Cruise and Travel Specialists in Lake Oswego, Ore. “The hardest seems to be cruise tours in Alaska … What folks don’t know will hurt them, and most times ignorance is not bliss.”
Clearly, agents would be wise to help elucidate the expanding selection of choices for clients.
The Lure of the Shore
The advantages of cruising are well-known, but not every iconic destination is on the water. So cruise lines are developing more unique ways to keep customers satisfied while they explore inland. Among them? Overnight land tours during a cruise.
- Paul Gauguin Cruises passengers can book a stay in an overwater bungalow at InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa before rejoining the ship.
- Regent Seven Seas Cruises will arrange overnight trips that visit the Taj Mahal.
- Holland America Line offers overnight opportunities in Sri Lanka.
- Silversea Cruises guests can explore and stay the night in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.
- Hurtigruten takes guests reindeer sledding, and they can spend the night in a Sami tent.
- Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is expanding its 2016 partnership with Insight Vacations and its Luxury Gold program to deliver Europe by water and land.
- Royal Caribbean International offers two-day overnight explorations in ports in Greece and Tikal, Guatemala, where guests rejoin the ship at the next port of call.
- Crystal Cruises has more than one dozen Overland Adventures on its 102-day Grand Pacific Panorama. Guests can spend one to four nights hundreds of miles from the port, in destinations such as Xi’an, China, and Bhutan.
New Ships for 2017
Next year, cruise and river cruise clients will see the emergence of larger ships; new dining, activities and technology; and renowned designers in the American market. Here are some of the most notable updates.
- Silversea Cruises’ 596-passenger Silver Muse, the line’s largest ship ever, will eliminate the main dining room and present eight dining choices, three of them open-air.
- Seabourn Cruise Line will bring out its biggest ship yet with the 604-passenger Seabourn Encore, which will feature a new look from renowned hospitality designer Adam D. Tihany.
- MSC Cruises’ 4,500-guest MSC Meraviglia will carry more passengers than any other cruise ship in the world and feature technology that will allow guests to access their staterooms, locate their children and more by using a smartphone, bracelet or cruise card.
- MSC’s 4,140-guest MSC Seaside, also launching next year, will usher in a new class with cluster cabins: up to three connecting staterooms that accommodate as many as 10 guests, a great option for families.
- The entrance of Viking Ocean Cruises’ 930-passenger Viking Sky and Viking Sun will allow the line to cast its net of itineraries worldwide.
- Star Clippers will launch the world’s largest square-rigged ship: the 300-guest Flying Clipper, which has balcony accommodations.
- AmaWaterways will add more accommodations for families in partnership with Disney on next year’s 158-guest AmaKristina.
- Crystal River Cruises has already impacted the industry with its three dining rooms, room service, customizable lighting and king-size beds; in 2017, it will launch the 110-passenger Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler.
- Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection will bring out its first “super ship” to sail the Seine River; the 128-passenger Joie de Vivre debuts in March.
- CroisiEurope will launch four ships in 2017 and is moving into Africa’s Chobe and Zambezi rivers next year with the 16-passenger African Dream.