Education key to attracting new-to-cruise clients, conference told

Securing ‘new-to-cruise’ passengers will come from educating consumers and travel agents as well as advertising, according to a panel debate at Fred Olsen Travel’s annual conference.

Cruise lines and agents, speaking at the conference in Buckinghamshire, said a mix of elements are needed to increase the cruise sector’s share of this market by increasing awareness among potential customers and in the trade.

P&O Cruises sales director Ruth Venn acknowledged it could be “tricky” for cruise lines to get the balance right of maintaining standards for existing clients and attracting new customers.

Citing the importance of creative platforms to promote products during the wave period to the mainstream market, she added: “It’s about how you get that message out there. It’s training and helping agents; we need them to understand the differences between our ships.”

The line has more than 1,000 travel agents visiting its ships this year, she said, which would in turn help them understand the product better.

Cunard UK director of sales Tom Mahoney said partnerships with well-known consumer brands were vital to raising product awareness. “Working with partners is a big focus for us. Cunard is focused on being relatable to other brands,” he said.

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines head of sales Geoff Ridgeon said the line was successfully using TV advertising to position its brand to newcomers as well as investing in the trade to attract clients who have never cruised before.

“Research is showing people want nature and wildlife so we are putting more into bringing that to life, such as asking clients what their interests are and why they are choosing a certain destination,” he said.

Advantage Travel Partnership commercial chief commercial officer Kelly Cookes said the challenge was to attract new cruise customers at a time when airlift availability and cost were deterring some from travel.

“There is a huge amount of awareness raising to do,” she said, adding that just over a third of the consortium’s total leisure business comes from cruise sales.

Celebrity Cruises vice-president and managing director EMEA Giles Hawke also called for better awareness of the differences between cruise lines.

“We [cruise lines] need to be better at explaining the differences between our cruise lines and products. We all have lots of the same things but there slight nuances in the type of food, the service, shows, and it’s incumbent on us as cruise lines to articulate what we stand for and make it clear.

“It’s about education and agents taking that opportunity. I think agents need to learn the differences and be able to articulate them to customers.”

He added the company was currently surveying a group of non-cruise customers in their 50s and taking them on Celebrity Apex to see if the experience changed their mind about a cruise holiday.

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