It truly has been all hands on deck in the world of cruising in 2018 with a plethora of new ships – both ocean and river – coming to market. Here’s my review of five key developments, observations and trends from the past 12 months, along with some highlights of what to look forward to in 2019.
1. Increasingly, customers are looking for more sophisticated itineraries on more technologically advanced ships that take them further afield to hard-to-reach destinations, such as Antarctica and the Galápagos. Specifically, expedition cruising has seen a sharp spike in popularity and, by 2022, 32 expedition ships are set to be on the water. Agents keen to learn more about this sector of cruising should sign up for Clia’s inaugural expedition cruise event in London next year. Coupled with more stylish ships and unusual itineraries is the move to make vessels more environmentally friendly. Pioneering this move is Virgin Voyages. Its new vessel, Scarlet Lady, is due for delivery in 2020 and will be the first of a three-strong fleet that puts environmental sustainability first and foremost.
2. As the cruise industry continues to strengthen, so too does the call from agents for itineraries that will help cruise lines both retain their existing customers but also attract a new-to-cruise audience. Customers increasingly want ‘young at heart’ itineraries that help them really get under the skin of a destination. At Avalon, the introduction of our Active Discovery programme this year was in response to this trend and gives customers sailing on the Danube and Rhine the opportunity to enjoy excursions and activities, such as a canoe trip through the Gorges de l’Ardéche and a painting masterclass at Van Gogh’s former home. Following the programme’s success, we are also expanding it to the Rhône in 2019.
3. It’s been great to see cruise lines continue to invest in agent training, whether online, face-to-face or via ship visits, conferences and events. While this will continue, it’s vital that agents are also proactive in their learning by regularly attending industry events. Knowledge is power in a constantly evolving sector. Looking ahead, agents should make use of Clia’s new and unique training tool, the ‘Cliasaurus’, which will launch by the end of 2018. This ‘cruise fact finder’ will provide information on specific ships, themed itineraries and celebrity ambassadors. At Avalon, we have updated our travel agent portal to allow the trade to make bookings and access a range of marketing and sales materials.
4. The importance of brand ambassadors has grown with an increasing number of cruise lines wanting a celebrity as the face and voice of their product. For example, TV presenter and adventurer Ben Fogle has expanded his thrill-seeking excursions with Celebrity Cruises, while P&O Cruises has revealed six agent ambassadors for its new ship, Iona, ahead of its launch in 2020.
5. Finally, this year has seen the continued growth in popularity of cruising on Asia’s waterways – and it was good to see Clia hold its first Asia-based conference this year. At Avalon, in light of this trend, we’ve introduced a new ship, Avalon Saigon, on the Mekong this autumn – and for 2019, the Ganges is now available as a new river for our customers to book.