Rethinking the cruise shore excursion, by Phil Evans
Phil Evans, MD Cruise Nation, on finding shore excursions that appeal to increasingly independent cruise customers
While the ships themselves have everything you need during a cruise holiday the shore excursions are, arguably, the most exciting part of any traveller’s time away. Being able to visit numerous destinations all in one trip, and getting the chance to try out exciting new activities and see amazing sights, makes for the holiday of a lifetime.
While the market still remains strong for excursions; passengers are beginning to become more independent and savvy when it comes to saving money and finding a good deal.
For the consumer, shore excursions can be perceived as a confusing and ‘cluttered’ marketplace. Excursions can be purchased from tour operators, with specialists such as Cruising Excursions, in port on arrival and directly with cruise lines. The choice and range of pricing can be quite overwhelming – particularly for first-time cruisers.
Booking with each kind of provider has its positives and negatives, such as when a customer books directly with the cruise line they have the reassurance that the ship will not leave without them if they are late returning. However, the price for excursions arranged by the cruise line can come at a premium and customers are more aware of the price difference than ever.
Travel agents and providers need to ensure they are highlighting the unique selling points of the excursions they offer and consider ways they can improve the service they deliver to customers. Having clear policies and procedures for cancellations and refunds can give customers confidence in the unlikely event their ship can’t reach port or weather conditions are unsuitable for the activity. Highlighting that tour guides are accredited by the Institute of Tourism Guiding or recommended by the regional tourist board can help to set your product apart.
Some cruise lines are effectively showing that price is not the only way to compete by creating experiences on land that cannot be easily replicated. Holland America Line has over 70 years’ experience travelling in Alaska. Cruisers that travel with them can extend their holiday with a stay at their Mount McKinley Chalet Resort, which sits at the gateway to Mt Denali National Park; a fantastic opportunity to explore this incredible landscape and spot wildlife. Celebrity Cruises offers the opportunity for cruisers to travel to popular food markets in port along with the head chef of the ship to shop for ingredients – gaining access to their expertise and recipes. For their more adventurous cruisers, Celebrity has curated excursions with the help of adventure expert and TV host Ben Fogle – another move that cannot be easily replicated.
As cruise lines have lost revenue from customers becoming more independent with their excursions, some cruise lines are encouraging agents to promote and sell excursions, with MSC Cruises now paying commission on activities sold. Princess Cruises has also introduced a new price promise that will give passengers 110% of the difference if they find the same shore excursion at a lower price.
A new niche in the marketplace to look out for is tours provided by unaccredited locals. Brands such as Airbnb, which promotes the experience of ‘living like a local’, have sparked an awareness of companies such as ‘With Locals’ who provide people with a platform to sell a tour of their favourite city sights and/or experiences. These include speciality tours such as photography trails and even bar crawls. This could appeal immensely to cruise visitors who want to make sure they are spending their precious time in the city the best way possible – and someone who knows the city inside and out like a local is likely to deliver on that for them and create a more meaningful experience at a lower cost.
For some destinations, the competition for providing shore excursions isn’t as crowded. While travellers can likely find hundreds of different prices for a gondola experience in Venice, the same does not apply for the likes of Alaska or the Caribbean where activities such as bear safaris and swimming with sea turtles are more specialised.
At Cruise Nation, our customers book on average two excursions per person and these are frequently booked for cities which we have identified as ‘crowded’ in the shore excursions marketplace. By identifying these crowded ports of call we can work to ensure we get the best possible price for our customers by reviewing dozens of different products, saving them time and money and delivering exceptional service.
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