By Michael Coleman
Despite lingering economic woes and belt-tightening across the nation, demand for luxury and river cruises is actually growing according to a recent survey of travel agents.
Conducted by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) – North America’s largest cruise industry organization representing 25 member lines and 16,000 travel agencies — the survey reveals that agents are observing an upswing in luxury and river cruise travel.
Some 36.5 percent report increasing demand for river cruises (34 percent say the demand is unchanged) while 64 percent indicate increased awareness for river cruising among their clients. Almost a quarter of agents, 22.2 percent, report a move toward luxury.
Travel agents agree that destination is a top motivator: 86.9 percent rank destination and itinerary at the top of the list for river cruisers, followed by authentic experiences in small towns and destinations; incorporated land programs and sightseeing; shipboard service and lifestyle, the all-inclusivity of the product and perceived value. For luxury cruisers, shipboard service and lifestyle and destination (78.3 percent and 58.3 percent respectively) are the prime motivators.
Among popular destinations, agents agree that Europe currently stands alone. Of those responding, 97.8 percent of river cruise sellers rank Europe at the top, followed by China, Russia. Europe and the Mediterranean. World cruises, Europe, the South Pacific and Asia rank highest in interest among a long list of choices for luxury cruisers.
Agents identify couples and affinity or social groups as growing markets for both river and luxury cruising (with the “retired/senior” maintaining the Number One position).
Why do clients choose to cruise over other types of vacations? In order of importance, according to agents surveyed, river cruise customers choose: authentic experiences in smaller towns and villages, smaller ships and intimate ambience, travel to multiple destinations, convenience, product inclusivity, shore excursions and value. Luxury cruisers cite quality of service, cuisine, smaller ships, value, destinations, and inclusivity.
In the survey, luxury cruises stacked up positively against the best restaurants in the world (75 percent similar to much better); the best hospitality service standards (94 percent); the most luxurious accommodations (75 percent); the most upscale spas (86 percent); and the most exciting cultural/enrichment/entertainment activities available (86 percent).
The survey also revealed that pre-and post-cruise programs are especially popular with the majority of river cruisers, with over 70 percent most likely to add a land stay on to their river voyage; the most popular length of luxury and river cruises is eight to 14 days, followed by seven day cruises; luxury cruisers also are demanding greater value and are more price sensitive, with higher expectations for quality of service; consumer incentives and promotions have made luxury cruising more affordable
Whatever their affluence status, both luxury cruisers and river cruise enthusiasts respond to “deals”: 85.7 percent of agents say river cruise clients are somewhat or much more apt to make a purchase with a special offer; 79.6 percent say luxury clients are similarly motivated.
On the web: cruising.org