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Travel agents are seeing stronger cruise sales this year, along with a pronounced shift toward close-to-home ports, according to Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) recent third-quarter Travel Agent Cruise Industry Outlook Report.
The quarterly study, which reports online responses from the 700 North American agents currently on the CLIA Travel Agent Research Panel, tracks trends as agents perceive them.
Key findings in the most recent report indicate that 73 percent of agents expect increased sales this year, with 27 percent anticipating increases of 10 percent or more; 15 percent expect sales to remain the same as in 2015.
In terms of cruise sectors, river cruising shows the most significant growth, followed by mega ships and ocean liners. Sixty-four percent of agents expect to sell more river cruise packages this year, and 21 percent expect to see significant growth in river cruise sales. According to 83 percent of agents, the most powerful attraction of river cruising is the intimacy of the experience. Seventy-three percent rated easy accessibility to the destination as important or very important.
The report indicates that the most popular kinds of cruises booked by agents involve couples and families (tied for first place), followed closely by multigenerational family cruises, usually including grandparents and grandchildren. The least-booked types of cruises are solo sailings, promotional groups and meetings and incentives.
Fifty-seven percent of agents expect mass-market cruising to show the strongest growth — 16 percent forecast significant growth — followed by the premium and luxury sectors.
After terrorist attacks in Europe, agents report a move toward close-to-home destinations, with 62 percent predicting that Alaska will have the greatest upside potential. Forty-eight percent of agents expect growth in Caribbean/Mexico/Bermuda cruises, 35 percent see a stronger market for Canada/New England, and 34 percent expect Hawaii to increase in popularity. Significantly, California and the Pacific Coast have now entered the list of top five destinations; 28 percent of agents anticipate increased bookings in the regions.
Additionally, the majority of clients book between six and 18 months out.
It seems cruise lines are on the right track: Participating agents stressed the importance of inclusiveness on cruises, particularly in the luxury market, where 66 percent report all-inclusive features are very important to their clients. Fifty-eight percent say that luxury cruise clients value a unique travel destination, and customized experiences are also rated highly.