TORONTO — Bolstered by high-impact ad campaigns from major brands and a long list of offers both for consumers and the trade, cruise lines are making a splash this Wave Season. It’s enough to make clients think twice about booking the cruise industry’s biggest competitor: that go-to getaway, the beach vacation. But can all the deals make up for the exchange rate with the U.S. dollar?
Norwegian Cruise Line sailed out of the gate with the brand new ‘Feel Free’ ad campaign, launched last week, and the ‘Free at Sea’ promotion offering a choice of four added-value deals (see box on page 4). The Feel Free campaign includes TV spots, online video, digital units and social media campaigns. It’s early days but Canadian bookings for the cruise line are already up, said Dana Gain, NCL’s National Director, Sales, Canada.
“We entered the year in a great booked position and with the launch of our new ad campaign Feel Free, we are excited to kick wave season off with a bang,” said Gain, adding NCL saw great success with its Freestyle Choice promotion in 2015 and hopes to continue the momentum with Free at Sea.
Royal Caribbean, meanwhile, got a big head start with its ‘Come Seek’ campaign, with its target firmly on Millennials who aren’t yet cruising in large numbers. The multi-million dollar campaign, launched last fall and now underway, included a first-of-its-kind live streaming outdoor campaign delivered via the social platform Periscope.
Starting this month Holland America will invite travellers to ‘Savor the Journey’, while Princess Cruises is hitting its stride with the multi-year ‘Come Back New’ campaign.
Travellers would have to be living under a rock not to see at least one of these ads. And while the Wave Season deals are fairly typical this year, all the new ads help increase customer awareness, said Vanessa Lee, President, Cruise Strategies. “Those campaigns and their slogans, which are very good, help drive the prospective cruise booker into an agency.”
The hurdle for Canadians is the exchange rate. “Unfortunately the Canadian consumer along with the Canadian travel professional is being hard hit with the exchange rate against the U.S. dollar,” said Lee. “Hopefully the Wave period will help and adjust sales but I know this is hurting sales.”
Tour operators including Air Canada Vacations and Encore Cruises have deals of their own that boost the Wave value proposition.
ACV’s CruiseAir BOGO sale takes 50% off flights for the second passenger until Jan. 24. All destinations are included and the air discount applies when clients book an oceanview stateroom or higher on a minimum seven-night cruise.
The key is to sell the right cruise line for the client’s needs “and know that whatever cruise line you choose, there will be some great perks available for bookings made in January,” said Kathleen Mooney, ACV’s Director, Cruise Product Development. “In addition, when booked with ACV they can take advantage of our CruiseAir BOGO sale.” Bookings are already up, she adds.
Over at Encore Cruises, bookings are also trending upwards from last year. “It’s looking very promising,” said Nathalie Tanious, VP Cruise Division. Encore is offering 1% bonus commission on all bookings plus 500 Loyalty Points on phone bookings and 1,000 Loyalty Points on online bookings throughout Feb. 29. Certain conditions apply. Some of Encore’s top selling cruise deals right now include Azamara’s More to Love onboard amenity package; Celebrity’s Go Better perks; Holland America’s View & Verandah; NCL’s Free at Sea and Royal Caribbean’s BOGO Further.
The latest CLIA study shows 24 million people are expected to cruise in 2016. Despite that, there are rumblings in the industry that cruise-only agencies aren’t the money-makers they once were.
“Every person who cruises usually also takes a land vacation each year or every other year,” said Lee. “I have always said that each agency should have both cruise and travel or cruise and vacation in their name. Every agency has the ability and capacity to sell not just land or cruise but should sell both.”
The key is to keep your customer, sell your customer what they want and sell down, not up, she said. “Start at the top of the ship and don’t sell inside staterooms so the commissions are higher. The business is always evolving and the cruise-only agency world is very sustainable.”
Eight Wave Season deals on the market
- Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea offers a choice of free unlimited beverages, free specialty dining, free shore excursions or free WiFi. It runs until April 10 and includes up to US$1,600 in freebies on new five-day or longer sailings.
- The Carnivalidays consumer event runs until Jan. 31 with special pricing, 24-hour sales and onboard perks like free two-category upgrades, onboard credits and reduced deposits. Carnival is also offering agents an opportunity to win one of three cruise/land vacation grand prize packages, as well as 600 additional instant win prizes, as part of its ‘Cruise, Explore & So Much More’ Wave Season sweepstakes, running through Feb. 12. To enter go to GoCCL.com.
- Princess Cruises’ ‘Twice as Nice’ sale gives passengers double onboard spending money and savings of up to US$1,000 per stateroom on cruise vacations six days and longer to all destinations, sailing summer 2016 through spring 2017. The sale runs through 11:59 p.m. PDT on Feb. 29.
- A new incentive from Windstar Cruises, exclusively for Canadian residents, includes an extra 20% savings on many 2016 Tropics itineraries including Caribbean, Costa Rica/Panama Canal and Tahiti voyages. The 20% discount is on top of Windstar’s already-reduced standard fares. The booking deadline is March 31. Call 1-800-258-7245 or visit windstarcruises.com/canadian-residents-discount/.
- Crystal Cruises passengers can combine two Crystal travel experiences for additional savings. Guests can book voyages on Crystal’s river yachts by the Feb.29 ‘Book Now’ deadline – set for embarkation in 2016 and 2017 – and get extra savings on sailings aboard the two ocean ships, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, and Crystal’s luxury yacht Crystal Esprit.
- Through Jan. 31 Celebrity Cruises passengers sailing on any cruise departing April 2016 through April 2017 can choose two perks for a savings of up to $2,150. Perks include the classic beverage package, prepaid gratuities, unlimited Internet, and onboard spending credits. Agents can take advantage of Celebrity’s ‘Four is More’ group offer by Feb. 28. Visit cruisingpower.com. “We continue to attract a large percentage of guests who are new-to-cruise and new-to-brand. Canada right now represents 20% of Celebrity’s Caribbean business on our two largest ships, the Reflection and the Silhouette and our response from both trade and consumers is that they love our Wave promotion,” said Jennifer Barker, Regional Marketing Manager, Canada.
- Silversea is mainly focused on its all-inclusive Mediterranean & Africa voyages for Wave Season, but there are two additional offers still available: the luxury line’s early booking bonus offering savings of 10% on over 35 featured sailings departing in either October, November or December 2016 (book and pay in full by Feb. 29) and deals on all-inclusive Asia voyages.
- Cunard is offering free upgrades and free gratuities in all categories, plus free drinks in the Grill Suites on select voyages on Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth with ‘The Ultimate Upgrade’. Book by Feb. 29. See cunard.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 14th, 2016 issue of Travelweek. To subscribe to Travelweek, click here.