Comment: The rise of the cruise excursion

Comment: The rise of the cruise excursion

Simonne Fairbanks of explains why trips ashore are bigger and better

Although cruise ships have been around for about 150 years, it was the 1960s that marked the beginning of the modern cruise industry. Back then, however, the main growth in the travel industry was package holidays and, even as recently the 1980s, most cruise ships catered for only a few hundred passengers at a time, but that was about to change. At the turn of the 21st century, mega-ships started to be built and, since 2001, nine or more new cruise ships have been built every year.


In two short decades (1988-2009), the largest class cruise ships have grown a third longer (268m to 360m), almost doubled their widths (32.2m to 60.5m), doubled the total passengers (2,744 to 5,400), and tripled in weight (73,000GT to 225,000GT). Also, the mega-ships went from single deck with verandas to all decks with verandas.”

In 2017 there are 448 cruise ships and as of December 2016 26 new ships were on order and between 2005 and 2015 demand for cruising increased by 62 per cent.

And the number of people cruising just keeps growing – Clia figures state that, in 2009, 17.8m people globally took a cruise, in 2017 this is expected to top 25.3 million. The average age of cruisers is getting younger as cruise ships adapt their features to attract new generations and cruise has become more affordable as competition grows.

In the early days of cruise, the focus was on onboard hospitality and entertainment, with cruise lines offering a basic excursion programme at each port. It makes sense that with the huge growth of cruise the excursions offered would evolve too – and as well as the cruise lines there are also now independent suppliers. With 95 per cent of cruisers taking at least one excursion it’s big business.

The city tour excursions are still popular, especially with first time visitors, but repeat cruisers are often looking for something different – off the beaten track, activity and adventure trips, or themed excursions – like zip-lining in St Lucia, swimming with turtles in Barbados, a Segway tour of Rome, or a private dining experience with a Maltese family
in their home.

The cruise lines are constantly changing itineraries, adding ‘undiscovered’ ports and new destinations, which means opportunities for new excursions. The bigger ports, meanwhile, are recognising the boost to the economy visiting cruise ships bring and are investing in meet and greet facilities and easy access for excursions’ transport. The duration of excursions is getting longer, with most at least half a day, to maximise the time in port. And with the trend for longer stays in port – two days in St Petersburg, for example, is not uncommon – there is the option to book evening excursions, such as a visit to the ballet.

The business of providing excursions is not without a few challenges, however.

Passenger security and safety is paramount and taking Foreign Office advice is crucial, but cruise is resilient and ports affected by recent atrocities are open for business.

Currency fluctuation, especially in the last 12 months, has seen inevitable price rises across the travel industry, but the excursions priced in sterling do offer reassurance on price.

Logistically, access and entry to major tourist attractions featured in excursion programmes needs to be considered and negotiated by the excursion provider. The last thing a cruise passenger wants is to spend too much time queuing for entry when their time on shore is precious. Fortunately, fast track entry is a common benefit of pre-arranged excursions.

Visas need to be considered and, for some excursions, such as at Aquaba, Mumbai and St Petersburg, visas need to be pre-arranged before the passenger steps off the ship.

So, what should travel agents know about selling excursions? They’ve long boosted their income by selling ancillary products, such as airport parking, transfers and car hire and now selling cruise excursions has been added to that list as a great commission earner.  Not only can it be very lucrative, but it’s also giving that extra special customer service by suggesting to customers who have bought cruises, that they pre-book their excursions before they depart on holiday. It usually makes economic sense to pre-book and there will be a wider choice of shore excursions to be found by shopping around at leisure before departure, with time to examine and choose the itineraries in detail. It is possible to find cruise excursions for virtually any cruise itinerary worldwide.

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