Final word: Is it time to step outside the echo chamber?


As Abta holds its first event dedicated to attracting the first time cruiser, Sam Ballard says that looking outside the existing industry network is vital to attracting new customers

This month, Abta will be holding its very first event dedicated to first time cruisers, in association with Clia. The conference promises to give agents the tools they will need to “appeal to the growing market of travellers of all ages and demographics who have not traditionally considered cruising”. This is interesting for a number of reasons, but primarily represents the wider travel industry taking notice of the growth of cruise. Abta cites the numbers: 14 per cent of UK holidaymakers plan on taking a cruise in the next 12 months – almost double the number that went on one in the past 12 months, according to the association’s Travel Trends report. The potential is clearly huge. But, how the industry gets beyond 1.9 million ocean cruise passengers is one that has so far eluded us.

The question that this all boils down to is: how do travel agents get those who want to take a cruise to book a cruise. And, perhaps more pressingly, to book it through them?

As an agent, it’s unlikely that this will be the first time you have been told about the importance of the new- to-cruise market. However, Abta’s session promises more of a deep dive here, particularly around the area of using customer insight “to identify new customers and pair them with the correct cruise product”. There will be a whole session dedicated to it during the one-day event in London.

This is going to be crucial. While we definitely do not subscribe to the ridiculous theory that “a cruise is not for me” (you would never say that about hotels), but book a client on the wrong ship and you will have lost them forever. However, as industry repeat booking rates attest, get it right and you will have someone who wants to book their cruise holiday with you time and time again.

This is what makes events like this an exciting prospect. The line-up
of speakers includes some of the big names in cruise (Andy Harmer, Clia’s UK boss, Stuart Leven, Royal Caribbean’s VP EMEA and Alex White, vice president of sales & distribution for P&O Cruises) but also non-cruise executives such as Sebastian Pichon, who is the industry manager for travel at web giant Google.

One of the best things about the cruise industry is how close it is. Competitors will discuss strategy while sitting on panels at conferences and are often found having a drink in the bar afterwards. However, perhaps it’s time that the cruise industry steps outside the echo chamber that this goodwill has created. We might just learn something.

Abta’s Attracting First Time Cruisers Conference is at the UK Chamber of Shipping in London on March 14

*photograph taken by Ben O’Bro

Sam Ballard

Sam Ballard is the publisher of CRUISE ADVISER and has been writing about the cruise industry for a number of years. His CV includes the likes of shipping magazine International Cruise & Ferry Review and the digital publication Cruise News. He can be contacted

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