The cruise industry is booming once again. Credit: Shutterstock

Cruise Week roundtable: Cruising through 2023

Author: Kaye Holland

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Bucket-list voyages are on the rise as are new-to-cruise agents, while cruise sales are booming despite the cost-of-living crisis. Ahead of Clia Cruise Week (September 18-23), we asked the experts to discuss the trends that are making waves

World of Cruising's Kaye Holland caught up with P&O Cruises’ director of sales Ruth Venn; Royal Caribbean’s head of sales Torey Kings-Hodkin; Princess Cruises’ sales director for UK and Europe Nick Hughes; Carnival’s director of international sales Luke Smith; and APT Touring’s business development manager Koral Lipton to look back at the year so far and consult their crystal ball for the months ahead.

It’s back to business as usual

Torey Kings-Hodkin: 2023 is done bar a few pockets of availability so it’s all about 2024 and beyond now.

Nick Hughes: We’ve had a very strong 2023 compared to previous years and have increased our ship visit programme as a result.

We have three ship visits left for 2023 and close to 2,500 agents will have experienced our product, tasted our food, and seen our entertainment. That’s super important for us.

Bucket list adventures

Ruth Venn: After the pandemic, there is a sense of ‘seizing the moment’ and booking those bucket list cruises. To this end, our Norwegian fjords itinerary – seven nights from Southampton which is a good starting point for those ‘new-to-cruise’ – is doing well, as are our themed cruises. Sometimes it’s not always about destinations but what is happening onboard.

Torey Kings-Hodkin: There’s a huge demand for the Caribbean featuring Perfect Day, our own private island. Anything with a private destination that you can’t experience elsewhere is always popular. So too is Alaska – after the last few years, people want to tick bucket list experiences.

Nick Hughes: Yes, we are also seeing a surge of interest in Alaska and more bucket-list destinations – although the Mediterranean remains popular and is performing well.

Alaska is described as America's last frontier. Credit: NCL

Agent engagement is at an all-time high

Nick Hughes: Agent interest is through the roof. Agents want to get to know more about cruise and the various cruise lines. We are also seeing an increase in agent attendance at webinars and at face-to-face events.

Torey Kings-Hodkin: New-to-cruise agents are seeing the fantastic opportunity cruise that represents.

Every ship visit we have put on this year has sold out – and arguably could have done so four times over.

Luke Smith: Our entire ship programme sold out in 24 hours – but the onus is also on the agent. It’s not just a nice day out.

Cruise lines do our bit but agents also have to be accountable. We need them to be speaking to customers and putting the product in front of them, because it’s not the same product it was 15-20 years ago.

Koral Lipton: The demand from agents is there and this has resulted in an expansion of our team to offer agents that extra support.

Andy Harmer: From a trade point of view, there’s never been a better time to sell cruise – the product has never been broader.

Agents are ready to engage and offer cruise to customers who may not have cruised before.

CLIA’s Andy Harmer says Cruise Week is an important part of boosting awareness. Credit: AG Studios

Spotlight on CLIA Cruise Week

Andy Harmer: Cruise Week has been running since 2008. We, as a community, have a much stronger voice if we all work together so the idea is that we use this specific week to talk about cruise as we have never done before.

Our travel agent partners will take part in events, take to social media and work with the media to amplify our voice.

Torey Kings-Hodkin: Cruise Week is something we, at Royal Caribbean, have always supported.

Our sales team will be out and about supporting agents on the front line and we will be launching our biggest-ever agent incentive programme.

Ruth Venn: We’ll be getting out to as many stores and call centres as possible, while also working with homeworkers.

There will be competitions and reward opportunities to earn extra shine points throughout Cruise Week.

The round table took place ahead of Clia Cruise Week.

Passing on price increases without alienating customers

Torey Kings-Hodkin: It’s easy to make assumptions and what is in your mind isn’t actually what is necessarily in customers’ minds.

Yes, these are challenging times but we are still seeing that people are investing in holidays and prioritising that spend. So be confident and believe in what you are selling.

Luke Smith: If agents have convinced themselves it’s too expensive, that is going to come across to the customer. And actually, the prices are fantastic for what the product is. We all sell amazing holidays that offer incredible value for money.

Andy Harmer: You can look at prices and think it’s expensive but these are some of the most inclusive holidays you can buy.

The actual price of a holiday is what you have paid when you get home. When you consider that everything – from day time activities to meals – is included in the price, then a cruise stands up as incredible value for money.

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About Kaye Holland

Kaye is a London-based wordsmith who has written for a range of publications including The Times, The Independent, The I, Culture Trip, The Sun, and ABTA among others. In June 2022, Kaye joined the Real Response Media where she looks – together with Lucy Abbott – after the World of Cruising website. Want to get in touch? Kaye can be reached at: [email protected]