66% say they’ve never cruised, but for the industry, those are sales waiting to happen

66% say they’ve never cruised, but for the industry, those are sales waiting to happen

TORONTO — A new survey has pegged the number of non-cruisers at 66% at the same time as cruise companies like Carnival Corporation and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings are reporting stronger than ever forward bookings for 2016 and 2017.

As always the potential for growth in the cruise industry is enormous. And cruise lines are going to great lengths – especially via social media – to attract new passengers.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Company says it came into 2016 in a solid booked position with more than 50% of its overall 2016 inventory sold, “significantly ahead” of the same time last year.  The company said it is seeing this trend continue into 2017 where the current booked position for the first half of 2017 is approximately 30% higher compared to this time last year on a capacity increase of approximately 5%.

Just a few weeks ago, meanwhile, Carnival Corporation was reporting that its advance bookings for the first three quarters of 2016 were well ahead of the prior year. Carnival Corp.’s net income for 2015 was US$2.1 billion, up from $1.5 billion in 2014.

While the cruise survey from Allianz Global Assistance focuses on U.S. travellers – suggesting that two-thirds (66%) of travellers in that market have never been on a cruise – the potential for the cruise industry is just as great if not more so in Canada. According to CLIA, U.S. consumers took 11.21 million cruises in 2014, 14 times more than Canadians, outstripping the usual the usual 10:1 ratio when comparing the U.S. and Canadian markets.

The cruise industry works hard to get non-cruisers past often dated ideas about cruise vacations, but stereotypes linger. In the Allianz Global Assistance survey, of those that responded that they have never taken a cruise, 47% said it was because of prohibitive price or cost and 22% said cruises have a bad reputation or word of mouth.  Others said they hadn’t taken a cruise because of susceptibility to seasickness (10%), fear of getting ill or sustaining injury (8%), fear of shipwrecks (7%) or claustrophobia (6%).

UK-based Thomson Cruises has taken to social media with its #NotForMe campaign, using cruise-positive reviews, images and videos from a dozen photographers, bloggers and vloggers in that country to tackle common misconceptions about cruise vacations.

“’Not for me!’ is something we often hear when the word ‘cruise’ is mentioned, as it conjures up images that are anything but exotic,” says Thomson on its website. “We think it’s time to change attitudes though, because there really is no better way to visit a string of tropical locations in a short space of time.” The campaign launched last month at thomson.co.uk/not-for-me/.

One of the forerunners in the cruise industry when it comes to social media, Carnival has put substantial resources into Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, says Carnival’s Business Development Director, Ontario, Marilisa De Simone.

A fan of social media – “I live by it” – De Simone has tips for agents looking to maximize their social media outreach.

Using social media to advertise pricing “won’t increase your business”, she notes. In this visual age, it’s all about images. Carnival offers videos for download/share from its Carnival Cruise Line YouTube channel, which agents can use to highlight Carnival ships, ports of call, dining experience, activities, ship behind-the-scenes and service.

On a recent seminar at sea De Simone hosted an optional social media training session. “I had 30 agents ask me if I could train them on how to best utilize social media”, including Twitter.  “I explained that you need to include hashtags with any form of social media, like #CarnivalCruiseLine, #Cruising, etc.  When you include a hashtag within your post, you have a greater chance of your post being seen by a much larger audience.”

It’s not just big middle-market cruise lines like Carnival that are focusing on social media. Helping travel agents boost their social media network is “absolutely” a priority for Crystal Cruises, mandated by the luxury line’s head office as a key sales initiative for 2016, says Karen Scott Caplice, Strategic Business Development Manager, Eastern Canada, Crystal Cruises. “I find some agents are embracing social media to help boost their sales and it is working,” says Scott Caplice. “Others are not interested and believe the more traditional marketing techniques work for their clientele. I believe there has to be a mix.”

Several cruise lines including Crystal Cruises as well as Avalon Waterways, Ponant and Windstar Cruises have partnered with TravContent, which offers curated supplier content posted directly to an agent’s Facebook feed. The service is free to agents and the call to action goes directly to the agent. Posts go up a minimum once per day and a maximum of four times per day, says TravContent’s Frank Orlando. “Agents can select suppliers, edit posts, remove a post or let it ‘rock-and-roll’ on automatic.” More information is at travcontent.com.