Comment: The consumer is the real winner as cruise continues to grow

Miles Morgan chairman Miles Morgan says customers will benefit from an increasingly competitive market

Nothing beats a fam trip for learning. I have done numerous day visits to see cruise ships in port, and while that gives you an excellent flavour, nothing beats the actual cruise experience. What age are the guests? Is there really enough deck space? What is the ‘feel’ of the public areas with guests on board and, finally, what’s the service like with a full complement of guests?

With all these questions in my head, I was lucky enough to travel on Explora Journeys’ Explora 1 last week, which conjured up some thoughts about the cruise sector in general I thought I’d share with you.

Firstly, I would hate to be the boss of a cruise line! Why? Because the bar keeps getting higher and higher in every subsector within the sector.

At the top end there’s the amazing quality of Silversea, Regent and Seabourn and the like, joined in a battle for passengers with Explora 1, not forgetting it is about to be joined by Explora 2 and 3. In the family arena, the amazing NCL ships are doing battle with P&O Cruises’ offering of Iona and Aria and MSC’s vessels, and then along comes Icon of the Seas into Royal Caribbean’s fleet, on the hunt for thousands of passengers. These new ships entering the market are monster vessels that take some filling. The new-to-cruise segment will be vital if these ships are to succeed.

Competitive sector

Each one of these cruise lines is looking for an edge over the other, whether it’s by offering unique experiences, different itineraries or different ports of call, all the while underpinned by an expectation that quality food and service will be a given. Needless to say, getting that edge isn’t easy. Then they each have the killer question to contend: what can you charge, and how much discount or added value do you need to offer to achieve target load factor?

Now, this is where I breathe a sigh of relief, because I am a travel agent. Thankfully, I don’t have to do any of the above, but I do need to know the answer to the key question for a successful cruise: which customer is right for which cruise line to ensure they have an amazing time. That needs to be overlaid with understanding the myriad itineraries each line offers and knowing how to unpick the sometimes-complex prices, deals and offers they are advertising. If you can crack all that, the cruise sector is a brilliant one for agents. It’s undergoing significant growth and, because of all of the issues listed above, customers need a decent, knowledgeable agent to make their holiday a success.

Top-quality holidays

In my opinion, the biggest winner of all in the competitive market is the consumer. Top-quality holidays afloat with high-quality food and service throughout, in which you visit amazing destinations on a daily basis, paired with cruise lines fighting for your booking, which often drives costs down, is a winning combination. What an amazing time to be a holidaymaker.

Finally, a couple of thoughts from my trip. Explora 1 is still just a few months old and still finding its feet. I found some of the things on board somewhat perplexing: there was a lack of shade and umbrellas on deck, and signage seemed poor. Perhaps this was an effort to be different, but it did make things hard. But, what Explora has 100% cracked with this ship, in my opinion, are the hardest and most important aspects: the food and service. These were both sensational and, importantly, consistent everywhere on the ship. For a new line just a few months in, this was nothing short of exceptional. All staff seemed proud to be doing what they do so well, which was lovely to see. I have no doubt Explora 1 and its forthcoming siblings will do well.

Cruise remains, in my opinion, the most exciting, innovative and fastest-growing sector in travel and is ideal for travel agencies like mine. If that were not enough, it’s also heaven on every front for customers too.

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