Operators and agents are hoping for a continued improvement in business. Hollie-Rae Merrick reports from the Cruise.co.uk conference in Switzerland

For many agents January was a tale of two halves, with a tough start to the year followed by a pick-up towards the end of the month; the cruise sector wasn’t any different.

But with more than 30 ships due to launch this year, cruise line representatives spoke about their optimism for the UK market at Cruise.co.uk’s annual conference in Villars.

More than 15 cruise line bosses attended the conference, and many were upbeat about rising prices and yields.

Sales upturn

Mike Evans, regional sales manager at Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, said agents such as Hays Travel and Barrhead Travel were performing strongly for the line and he attributed that to the company’s wealth of regional departures.

However, Evans admitted that the start to the year had been slower than anticipated, but said: “Compared to last year we have 25% less inventory on sale because we were more ahead at the end of last year. February is always strong for us so we’re very positive. Sales are buoyant and we are getting very good yields.”

Evans’ sentiments were echoed by Princess Cruises boss Paul Ludlow who claimed that despite a slow start, the upturn in bookings had been sustained.

Ludlow said several new‑to‑cruise agents were performing strongly during the wave period.

He added: “Wave got off to a slightly slower start this year. The rush started later but, unlike previous years when it has tailed away after the third week in January, we have maintained strength and interest for longer.

“What we didn’t see booking in early January, we have made up and some in the later part of the month and 
early February.”

Celebrity Cruises sales director Nicki Tempest-Mitchell agreed that the year started slower and said it had been tough on the high street.

She added: “We brought out our wave campaign early in November and that has been really successful, so we exited last year in a very good place.

“The first week in January was very slow and business from the high street in particular was slow and it was tough for those guys, but overall towards the end of the month it was significantly busier.

“It’s fair to say that we’ve had to work really hard to make our campaigns stand out. We have had lots of extra promotions on top of our 123Go! campaign and that’s worked well for us.”

Incentives extended

Iain Baillie, UK sales managing director for Carnival Cruise Line, said a successful January led the line to extend its The Real Deal incentive into February “to keep the booking momentum going”.

He added: “We have also seen trends in our UK business for an increase in cruise duration and a higher-grade stateroom booking mix, which has moved the average selling price up, giving better yields and earning margins for agents.”

Stuart Leven, UK boss of Royal Caribbean International, said: “We started wave earlier than usual and had a very strong January. With Anthem of the Seas coming to the UK and Allure of the Seas coming to the Med this summer we needed to be well ahead of last year’s booking levels and have achieved this in early wave.”

Lynn Narraway said she believed Holland America Line’s ReadySetSail promotion was easy for agents to promote. She added: “We went into Christmas 36% up year on year and we have retained that through January. We’re in good shape for wave.”

Chris Truscott, sales and distribution support director at P&O Cruises and Cunard, said yields were up during this wave period compared to 2014.

“I think we’ve having a very strong wave period when compared to others,” he added.