With so many cruise lines reliant on the US market, when the Americans get nervous about travelling (and let’s face it they can be rather sensitive souls!) it is beholden on Europeans to fill the ships. Without a doubt, 2016 is going to be the year to bag a bargain.
In the past, it’s the ocean sector where discounting and incentives have been prolific. However, with 40 new river ships having launched in 2015, and a further 23 launching across 2016, river cruising is experiencing a huge increase in capacity. We are now certainly in a similar price-orientated arena. The days of demand out stripping capacity are sadly over, however the fact that pricing is so keen brings with it the opportunity to hopefully entice new-to-river customers.
It’s not just the excellent value for money that will bring us new customers, but it is also about confidence. With the Eastern Mediterranean and some traditionally popular cities being a current concern to both consumers and operators, river cruise is viewed very much as a safe option, allowing customers to be in the heart of a destination while experiencing it from the relative safety of a river.
Nowadays it is not just the last minute dates that have the good deals, as all of us in the industry want to bring the booking process forward. At Uniworld we have been promoting a whole variety of dates and itineraries which have some really keen pricing and single traveller supplement waivers on departures right up until November. This allows for more structured and planned marketing activity with our agency partners rather than the knee jerk marketing that used to take place.
I really feel for agents who are being constantly bombarded with offers, not to mention staff incentives. Managing the number and variety of staff incentives is virtually a full time job, making sure that vouchers are claimed, iPads distributed, fridges filled etc. I’m not convinced that such incentives clinch a sale, but hopefully they make the consultant feel appreciated by the brand that they have booked.
By the same token the poor consumer only has to turn to the travel pages of the popular press to be overwhelmed by a plethora of ‘amazing deals’ , ‘exclusive offers’, ‘last chance to buy’, ‘limited availability’ deals etc. Thank goodness they can turn to their travel agent to help them navigate this minefield.
So, as we come to the end of the first quarter of 2016, we can see that it is going to be a challenging year for the cruise lines, but an amazing opportunity for both consumers and agents.
Kathryn Beadle is the managing director of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection