Don’t worry travel agents—cruising is still in high demand with a variety of styles for all types of consumers, from mega-ship cruises to river cruises. In fact, according to a recent internal survey by American Express Travel, despite recent events in the cruise industry, 85 percent of travel counselors’ sales have not been impacted. Agents are finding that the Caribbean and the Mediterranean are two of the most sought-after regions, but new destinations have also joined the ranks for consumers, such as Italy’s Po River; Cambodia and Vietnam on the Mekong River; and areas in South America on the Amazon River.
And while luxury is important for consumers when it comes to accommodations—with 69 percent of agents seeing an increase in demand for higher-end room categories—consumers still look for value, most commonly requesting an onboard credit, as well as discounts and offers like free air promotions.
We recently attended the annual Cruise3Sixty conference in Vancouver to learn more about the latest happenings in the industry and how travel agents can benefit.
Windstar Cruises has a lot of new changes on the horizon, adding three additional power yachts, purchased from Seabourn, as well as new destinations and partners.
Each of Windstar’s new yachts will accommodate up to 212 passengers.
The first yacht, the 106-suite Star Pride, will join the fleet in May 2014, offering four new exclusive itineraries, including the company’s new Black Sea Tapestry voyage. The 7-day itinerary is roundtrip from Istanbul, visiting five new ports, including Yalta, Sevastopol, and Odessa, Ukraine; Constanta (Bucharest), Romania; and Nessebar, Bulgaria. Rates start at $3,299 pp.
The new yachts will also allow Windstar to travel to places where it couldn’t go before, such as Asia starting December 2014.
The company is also creating artisan-crafted signature experiences, such as themed food and wine cruises. It will be offering its first culinary-themed cruise focusing on the regional cuisine of Spain with its 8-day Culinary & Wine Delights of Spain on Wind Surf. The cruise, which starts at $2,999 pp if booked by Aug. 31, was created in partnership with SAVEUR magazine and includes a 1-year subscription. The trip departs April 19, 2014 and visits Cadiz, Malaga, Almeria, Cartagena, Valencia, Soller and ends in Barcelona. While on board, passengers will experience cooking demonstrations by a SAVEUR guest chef, wine lectures by a master sommelier, complimentary Spanish wine throughout, and two hosted wine dinners.
AmaWaterways is upping the ante with more luxurious features, such as swim-up pool bars and a chef’s table in the lounge area. Older ships are getting modified, and ships are upgraded as needed yearly, since they only sail 300 days out of the year. If your clients happen to be on AmaVida, which debuted this spring, suite 319 is in hot demand, since it was where Sharon Stone stayed when she christened the ship as its godmother.
Come 2014, the line will have 17 ships in the market—with Central Europe being its main market destination. This August, it will christen the AmaPrima, which will offer 10 itineraries: Tulip Time Cruise, Melodies of the Danube, The Romantic Danube, Blue Danube Discovery, The Legendary Danube, Magnificent Europe, Grand Danube Cruise, Black Sea Voyage, Great Capitals & Vintages of the Danube, and Christmas Time Cruise. Some of the destinations these itineraries will visit include Prague, Budapest, Istanbul and Munich.
Travelers can also look forward to two new themed itineraries: the Chocolate Connoisseurs Cruise, a chocolate-themed Romantic Danube cruise in 2014 on AmaCerto, featuring Norman Love of Norman Love Confections, and a Knitting New Year’s Cruise on the Danube River on AmaBella ringing in 2015.
While the river cruise line finds its clients to be getting younger and more active, it offers a variety of excursions for all types of passengers, from “Gentle Walkers” to “Active Walkers,” or those who’d like to “cover more ground,” offering more than two dozen bicycles that guests can take out on their own in Europe. The ships, however, don’t allow children under 4 and recommend only bringing children 6 and over.
MSC Cruises is debuting new features on board MSC Divina, which will sail on year-round Caribbean itineraries from Miami starting in November. Focusing on giving passengers a Mediterranean-inspired experience, MSC Cruises has partnered with the Turin-based chain Eataly, launching two new restaurants and a marketplace on MSC Divina: the upscale Ristorante Italia and the steakhouse Manzo. The ship will also be the first to offer Aqua Cycling by Hydrorider where guests can take cycling classes in the water (for an additional fee).
When travelers book on MSC Divina from now through July 8, for sailings from April 14-Oct. 11, 2014, they can receive up to a $200 per stateroom onboard credit. For more information, visit msccruisesagent.com or msccruisesusa.com.
Agents interested in gaining CLIA certification credit can take part in cruisExcellence, a new regional event with virtual ship inspections, taking place now through October in cities throughout North America, including Houston this month and Sacramento in August. For more information, visit cruising.org/cruisexcellence-2013-new.
Royal Caribbean International (RCI), meanwhile, is making agents’ life much easier with its enhanced ChoiceAir program, which finds the lowest airfares for your clients and works with the airline to assure travelers will make it on time to their cruise. When travelers book a 6-night or more cruise now through July 14 and book air with ChoiceAir, they will receive a $50 onboard credit bonus. Mention offer code SOX9 at booking time.
Travel agents—you can win, too, when you book with ChoiceAir now through July 14. RCI is giving away two pairs of roundtrip, domestic coach-class JetBlue air vouches. For more information, visit cruisingpower.com.
Another addition that will change booking with RCI is its NextCruise open booking option for the Crown & Anchor Society loyalty program members. Members will receive a reduced deposit of $100 pp and an onboard booking bonus of up to $200 per stateroom for a future cruise. With the program, clients will automatically be booked with the travel agent they originally worked with.