Comment: Cruise lines that don’t see the trade’s importance will miss out

John Sullivan, head of commercial at The Advantage Travel Partnership, evaluates Viking’s decision to focus on direct sales

Viking announced last week it is intending to push more bookings direct, but we are seeing the complete opposite approach with many of our partners. Cost of acquisition is lower with the trade because they are geared up to support our members with training, fam trips, marketing resources and so on, and what we are finding is that a considerable number of our cruise partners are looking to increase their share of trade business due to the lower cost of acquisition and agents’ ability to sell up.

Travel agents are the gateway to potential river guests, who may not have even considered this holiday type when planning a future trip and, therefore sector expertise and first-hand knowledge is essential. The 12th Clia RiverView Conference held last month also showcased 11 ships to a record 540 Clia members, demonstrating that huge investment is continuing to be made into this event by operators, ultimately looking to drive business through the trade.

In terms of the market specifics, river cruising is the fastest-growing type within the sector, and a clear understanding of brand distinction is absolutely key. All lines will focus on food, destination and service, but aside from that, the experience is unique on each ship, and activities vary greatly. Additionally, the market growth in this cruise sector is due to increase significantly this year as a further 15 river ships are being launched.

To demonstrate the importance we place on cruise selling via the trade, and our members specifically, Advantage will this week we will be launching a revamped and enhanced cruise marketing tool for members. This new tool will have an increased focus on river cruising to help members promote their expertise and knowledge within the cruise sector to their own customers, and through their own channels. Our ongoing support to members across cruise is continually evolving and this will only increase as the market continues to grow.

Our cruise line partners tell us that the investment we make in ensuring our members have the right tools, training and resources available to maximise cruise sales drives significant value to them. This was evidenced recently when AmaWaterways reported its best month in UK sales in the line’s history, with UK and Europe sales director Andrea Stafford praising the trade for its performance, saying the majority of the line’s bookings come via agents, and they have shown “incredible support” of the brand during the wave period.

Viking clearly have their own reasons for looking at increasing their direct sales, but for those who choose to spend significantly on TV advertising, two things spring to mind. Firstly, and surprisingly, their cost of acquisition direct versus trade is lower when they spend on expensive routes to market. And, secondly, their TV advertising creates a halo effect for our members. It  drives potential customers to agents to find out more about river cruising, and in this case our members then obviously switch sell these customers to trade supporting brands.

So the question remains, as we see this sector continue to grow strongly via the trade, are those who decide to increase their direct sales missing out? I would say they are!

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