Road trips and weekend getaways have been a rage with Indian travellers for quite a few years now but the winds are changing and there is an encouraging growth in demand for cruises compared to previous years. The Indian traveller is now open to experimenting and cruise liners are going all out to woo their customers by offering customised itineraries. However, a common belief about cruising being an expensive product may be turning some clients off. Dispelling these myths can persuade them that cruising is the right choice. But who can help? To get an in-depth analysis, we spoke to the cruise experts on how travel agencies can play an important role in driving sales through right knowledge and personalisation
About 30 years ago, a cruise ship usually sailed to sun-drenched parts of the globe like the Mediterranean or the Caribbean. Today, you can take a cruise to almost any part of the world including Alaska, the Caribbean, Hawaii, the Mediterranean, South East Asia and the Mexican Riviera. There are hundreds of ships and many more waterways from which to choose. Indeed, the breadth and scope of cruising itineraries are mind-boggling.
The Cruise Lines International Association recently forecasted better than five per cent passenger growth for 2018 to reach a projected 27.2 million passengers worldwide. That comes after four per cent passenger growth in 2017 and an increase of over 20 per cent between 2011 and 2016. To meet the ongoing demand, more ships are scheduled to set sail in 2018. According to the service providers, the growth in demand for cruise tourism from Indian travellers over the past years has been significant and they expect a further jump in bookings in coming years. The Indian traveller today, is extremely different from the one that the tourism industry dealt with a few years ago.
Talking about the changing preferences, KishanBiyani, Managing Director, Ark Travels explains, “Cruising in the older days was restricted to a saying, ‘Cruising is for newlywed or nearly dead’; this maxim has changed over past three decades. The internet age has set new limits for client’s preferences. They have become more open while making choices and bargaining at the same time. Also, Indian cruisers which were known as low spender onboard a cruise has changed over past couple of years. On an average, an Indian traveller spends USD70 on board the cruise ship. Cruise Industry Consumer Outlook report also states that five out of 10 potential travellers are interested in taking an ocean cruise, while three out of 10 potential travellers are likely to go on a river cruise. Which means, the demographics and cruise pattern of avid cruisers are changing very fast. Fly-cruise is still a popular option encouraging couples/families, senior citizens, corporates and MICE to plan their next vacations. The figures fly-cruise tourism has exponentially shot up in last five years from India.”
Sharing similar opinion, Ratna Chadha, Chief Executive, TIRUN, exclusive India representative of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd says, “Long duration cruises and exotic destinations are more popular with travellers and as they embark upon more cruises, travellers are also becoming brand-conscious, i.e. they are emphatically putting across their preference of cruise liners. All three of our cruise brands, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises sail through exotic, offbeat destinations. Guests have also become more comfortable with these cruise liners as they trust the brand name and can travel with a sense of comfort and security as they do not face any challenge of food, language or culture.”
She further adds, “Asia is on a growth trajectory by the virtue of being an unexplored cruise destination; therefore, cruising is all set to grow here. Looking at the high desire among Indians to cruise, the Indian government has actively participated in popularising Indian cruise tourism. Their focused efforts at introducing various support measures such as opening new ports and introducing port based projects have renewed the emphasis on cruise tourism. It will definitely attract international tourists while simultaneously encouraging more domestic travellers to opt for cruise holidays to experience the rich heritage and diversity of our country.”
“Earlier, the Indian cruise traveller would look at destinations closer to home. In keeping with this, Singapore, Hong Kong was extremely popular places to visit. However, this phenomenon has seen a positive shift with holiday seekers looking beyond these countries. The evolved traveller is well researched and is open to exploring new geographies. There has been a significant shift of Indians opting for seven to eight-night itineraries as opposed to four to five-night itineraries. We have seen this trend across different age groups. Realising the potential the Indian market has, cruise liners are constantly upgrading and offering unique experiences. With the development of better infrastructure and the growing ecosystem of cruising in India, cruise tourism is soon becoming an attractive segment to look forward to in the future,” highlights Manoj Singh, Country Head - India, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.
Keeping in sync with Singh, KunalSampat, General Manager India, MSC Cruises says, “We see an Indian traveller evolving slowly and steadily leading to repeat clients, choosing long duration cruise holidays from the traditional three to four nights. Also, the demand has been on a rise for Mediterranean sailings as compared to previous years.”
Citing cruising as one of the preferred avenues for Indian travellersNareshRawal, Vice President – Sales, Genting Cruise Lines shares how the outbound cruise tourism from India has been growing at a steady pace year-on-year. “The Indian traveller has evolved from shorter itineraries to longer ones, moving from regular cruising to experiencing luxury cruising. There has been an evolution in the cabin category as well. Where they were earlier choosing Inside Staterooms, now we are witnessing a higher demand for Balcony cabins and Suite Cabins to a ‘ship within ship concepts’ are getting widely accepted. More and more people are choosing cruises because it is an all-inclusive package which not only takes care of the stay but also includes meals, entertainment and covering various destinations at the same price,” he emphasises.
NishithSaxena, Founder & Director, Cruise Professionals observes that the demand for more experiential cruising is going to be high as people now are willing to go out of their comfort zone to experience the things that are offbeat. “As Indian travellers are evolving, there are more and more refined choices being made when it comes to the cruising destination, as also with regard to the type of cabins and kind of ship one would like to sail on. This trend is more visible in metros where passengers have gone for at least one cruise and have liked the experience. Going forward, we are anticipating distinct patterns emerging for masses and for classes. Both these segments of passengers have their own peculiarities when it comes to deciding which cruise to go on. While cost plays a very important role in the first segment, it is the life-enrichment experience that attracts the second segment.”
It is, therefore clear, without a question that the growth story of Indian travellers opting for cruises continues on a right trajectory, creating a positive impact on the global economy. However, for a first-time traveller or a budget-centric tourist, a common perception still prevails that cruising is purely a luxury holiday and an expensive product not everyone could afford. Are they educated about the product correctly?
Debunking the myths
It is true that cruise travel was earlier looked upon as a luxurious experience, one that could probably put a dent in your pocket. The delusion was and is still there that cruising, is an extension of a land holiday and Indians, being the budget-centric travellers do not specifically opt for a cruise-only vacation. “Marketers and travel providers need to recognise the fact that cruising is not only about extravagant, luxurious experiences. A cruise offers an all-inclusive holiday and provides an array of services and amenities that make it more cost-effective than a land holiday. Travellers should also consider the fact that while the difference in packages might reflect in individual rooms and facilities chosen according to their preferences and budget, the entire ship’s amenities are open for everybody to utilise,” Chadha explains.
Biyani feels though there are shifts in trends and one may be wrong in saying today that cruising is an expensive option but the Indian travellers still consider it to be an unaffordable choice. “A Cruise Industry Consumer Outlook report stated 67 per cent of the cruisers say that cruising offers a high-value experience for the money as compared to land packages. Which means, with the marketing of cruising products through online and offline activities, the stakeholders have tried and dispelled the myth of cruising as an expensive product. All the factors like cruising being an all-inclusive product have also helped to break the myth. But misconception does prevail in a price sensitive market like India where even 100 ml coke is being sold with certain discounts. The challenge always is to bring discounted cruise itineraries,” he highlights.
Saxena, further illustrates that it’s quite easy to dispel the myth as according to him, cruises have more choices of accommodations than in most of the hotels that one could select an option that suits the taste and preferences. “Simply speaking, a cruise is the most balanced and affordable vacation package which exists in the travel business, keeping in mind the inclusions for passengers,” he accentuates.
However, with the increasing incomes and right knowledge about the product, the time seems to have changed now. Rawal couldn’t agree more when he says that the perception of cruising is changing, more and more people are choosing this as an integral part of their vacation plan. According to him, no other option is as viable as cruising as it is more cost-effective in comparison to land holidays plus one has a privilege to travel to different destinations under one itinerary which land packages do not offer widely.
Calling cruising as the most sought-after holiday option for the Indian traveller, Singh believes that this concept has recently picked up steam, where the myth around the product is slowly losing ground. “Planning a cruise is convenient and simple by selecting a cruise that is based on your travel dates, length of stay and destinations- all in one go. Today, there is an itinerary or cruise ship to suit every kind of travel making it an ideal holiday preference. And with the best-in-class service and facilities, a coastal voyage is the best route for exploring the world. We have, in fact, witnessed a considerable number of passengers booking their holidays in advance to suit their specific requirements,”
Talking about the personalised services, Sampat recounts, “It is a very common myth about cruising that it is only for the elite. We, at MSC Cruises, understand that different passengers have different needs. You can enrich and personalise your cruise by offering a wide range of experiences available to suit individual needs.”
Travel agents, the gatekeepers to opening up opportunities
People say, with agents comes wisdom. Travel agencies can play a significant role in retailing the product through in-depth product knowledge, providing a highly personalised service and developing relationships with clients directly. Even clients who love cruising may not choose to cruise every year. While they may have absolutely loved their Mediterranean cruise last year, for next year, they may desire to instead book an escorted tour or Las Vegas city stay this year. It is, therefore, imperative for agents to understand their client’s needs and make them the repeat customers by their revolutionary new ways to sell the cruise packages. But how will they keep evolving? The answer is, of course, motivation, encouragement to sell the product and proper training.
Biyani, Rawal and Singh are of a belief that to maintain healthy relations with the trade partners, it is extremely important to keep them encouraged and engaged. Initiatives such as regular roadshows, B2B connects, webinar, detailed ship brochures online and offline programmes backed by sales mission, participation at travel exhibitions, various certifications and cruise familiarisation trips are taken to and handhold the travel agents from across the country.
Singh further reiterates, “Engagement with our travel partners is an ongoing process. It is imperative that they understand the product completely to be well equipped in managing customers who are inclined towards taking a cruise holiday. To ensure a constant flow of information, we organised our Product Training seminars in more than 25 Cities in 2017/2018. We have a strong web-based online portal for travel agents called Norwegian Central. Through the portal, travel agents can learn how to book any of our cruises, research and use promotional tools and more. This makes it easy for travel agents to successfully sell our brand and also acts as a feedback channel for partners to connect with us.”
Keeping in mind the preferences of a customer and the role of a travel agent in bringing sales efficiency to a cruise business, Saxena shares, “With over 40 airlines, 50 hotel companies, numerous DMC’s, insurance companies and cruise companies knocking on the doors of the travel agents every day, it is challenging task to acquire and provide information to clients for decision making very quickly and correctly. However, most agents understand the business and are constantly trying to educate themselves. On our part, in addition to regular sales visits, in-house presentations and educational EDM’s, we ran a series of three webinars for 2018 cruise offerings – this was very well received by the trade and the engagement level was extremely high.”
“Cruise Professionals believes in a B2B approach, resultantly we educate and engage with the travel agent through the year, but, it is also true that unless travel agents don’t promote the cruises regularly, the client’s confidence would remain shaky when it comes to buying cruises. We need to remember that in current scenario, the consumer is the king and he is spoilt for choices. Also, as a part of jointly celebrating Cruise Professionals 10th Anniversary, we have come up with an incentive plan for travel agents for all of their FIT bookings where they get an extra incentive on all the booking done in this year and we are happy that this offer has been able to encourage our travel agents to sell our products in higher numbers,” he further reveals.
Sampat informs that for MSC Cruises, the trade partners are extremely important too and the company ensures that all of them are regularly updated on MSC as a product by means of training programs, one-to-one meetings, social media engagements, broadcast messages and more. “We have recently introduced a bonus program for our key trade partners to entice them on selling MSC more aggressively. We are in process of developing an e-learning platform which will be then shared with the trade partners to enhance their knowledge with a fun element attached to the same. Along with the same, we have also conducted the first ever FAM trip for them from West India and are looking forward to creating more such opportunities in the future,” he shares.
The way forward
Sharing a different side of the picture, Chadha rightly points out that the trade partners are somewhere lacking the influencing power to facilitate the decisions of their clients. The customers today, possess a vast amount of knowledge and need very little influence in decision making. Therefore, it is the need of the hour for the trade partners/agencies to surpass this knowledge and equip themselves to become influencers rather than facilitators. “While a first-hand cruise experience is always a better option for the trade partners, virtual walkthroughs and online courses also have a great impact. In fact, trade partners can take the online course at their leisure. Even we offer online courses from top universities and at the end of the course, trade partners receive the certificate of a certified partner. Trade partners, however, are indifferent to these online courses and want the information to be crystallised and provided to them in a readymade manner. While first-hand knowledge definitely helps to promote the offerings, a proactive trade partner can definitely use the resources at their disposal to help sell packages better and make the transition from being a mere facilitator to an influencer,” she opines.
The cruise industry will remain on the positive trajectory in the coming year and growth is not showing signs of slowing down. Now that an increasing number of Indian travellers are putting a high-seas expedition on the holiday agenda, it is, therefore, a collective responsibility to make the cruise segment grow further. As a cruise travel itinerary can be convoluted - especially to the eyes of a first-time customer, the travel agents here can act as the right advisors. And this can only be possible through a right kind of support and encouragement. It could be marketing support, access to good cruise line training, invitations to familiarisation trips, ship visits or special promotions. On an agent’s part, looking beyond the price and instead finding ways to meet the customers’ overall vacation goals, just as one looks at a five-year plan for one’s business, will surely help. Whatever is important, this match of product to the customer will help build a strong relationship.
“India needs to build world-class Cruise Terminals”
A guest column by SubhashGoyal, Chairman STIC Travel Group
Cruise Tourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the tourism industry and makes a significant contribution to the destinations economy and the local communities where the cruise ship anchors. Cruise Tourism offers great opportunities to the developing cities and towns which are situated near the Coast. India with 7000 km of coastline and the beautiful islands of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep, the Cruise Tourism potential of India is huge and can create millions of jobs.
As Cruise lines are looking for new destinations, cruise tourism offers great opportunities in India. However, to make this successful, India needs to build world-class Cruise Terminals in Mumbai, Goa, Cochin, Chennai, Vishakhapatnam, Kolkata and other cities that need to be developed along the coastline.
Global Tourism market is experiencing a huge growth from 3.8 million passengers in 1990; it grew to 22.2 million passengers in 2015. This growth is expected to continue and reaching more than 25 million passengers by 2019. It adds up to an average passenger growth rate of 6.55 between 1990 and 2019. The passenger capacity of the tourism industry is 466,000 beds according to the Cruise Line International Association.
In view of the above, our company Stic Travel Group has also diversified into cruise tourism. Our Company represents the following Cruise Lines:
Holland America Line – Classic, premium and energised with new enhancements. With more than 144 years of impeccable service offering about 500 sailings a year aboard fourteen elegant and spacious ships, visiting all seven continents.
Seabourn Cruise – Seabourn welcomes you to ultra-luxury cruising refined to its purest form. Where hand-selected itineraries take you to places beyond the reach of larger ships.
Windstar Cruises – A voyage on a Windstar luxury cruise feels like your own private yacht – luxurious amenities, gourmet cuisine, exceptional service and exotic and unique ports of call. Small enough to reach places other cruise ships can’t go, large enough to pamper and entertain you.
The business for all the above three cruises is growing every year from 15 to 20 per cent and Holland America has over 90 per cent repeat clients. Nowadays, there is a huge demand for River Cruises on the Nile, Yangtze and European Rivers. Our company represents A’Rosa River Cruises which provides comfortable, simple, stress-free way to see Europe. The six premium International ships offer cruises on Europe’s rivers Danube, Rhine, Rhone and Seine. A-Rosa sails on the Rhine/Main/Moselle (Netherlands, Belgium, Germany & Switzerland), the Danube (crossing 10 European countries – Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Bucharest, Slovakia, Germany, Prague and Port-Wurzburg, Hassfurt and Linz) and the Rhone/Saone (France) and Seine (France).
The sale on all the above cruises is a proof that not only sea cruises but river cruises are also becoming very popular.