Domestic sailings ‘give trade chance to show its value’

The wide range of policies and protocols being applied to the armada of UK cruises planned for this summer offers an opportunity for agents to demonstrate their expertise and reassure customers, according to specialists.

Several lines have confirmed plans to operate domestic cruises but are taking a range of approaches on aspects including vaccination and testing requirements and port visits.

Alison Earnshaw, managing director of Cruise 118 parent WTH UK, said specialists were well-placed to identify the best options for customers and said general agents could also market the cruises to their wider databases.

She added: “There is huge demand among UK consumers. The value of a travel agent has increased in these times of uncertainty and people have more questions than ever before – it reiterates our importance.”

Phil Nuttall, Travel Village Group chief executive, said the cruises offered good-value alternatives to domestic land-based holidays which were being booked quickly and were becoming expensive.

He added that cutting through confusion about protocols and knowledge of MSC Cruises’ successful Mediterranean restart were an opportunity to offer value and expertise for clients.

Andy Harmer, Clia UK & Ireland director, said the ‘seacation’ cruises were an excellent opportunity for agents to attract both “loyal travellers and a new-to-cruise audience”.

Michael Wilson, managing director of Bolsover Cruise Club, reported strong bookings for week-long sailings, particularly the maiden voyage of P&O Cruises’ Iona (pictured).

He added: “Vaccination policies were met with mixed emotions when the staycation sailings were first announced, but it has become apparent that requiring vaccinations and/or testing prior to boarding is a necessary step in sailing safely again.”

Despite the positive response, some agents said the complexity and uncertainty remained a barrier for consumers and the trade.

Graeme Brett, director of Westoe Travel, called for clear guidance from Clia and Abta as well as government, pointing to questions around access to ports of call in Scotland and Northern Ireland and how tenders would operate with social distancing measures in place.

The Vertical Travel Group is helping its agents with marketing materials to capitalise on the announcements.

Colette Byrne, a Holiday Elite homeworker with VTG, said: “It’s a breath of fresh air – we’re so pleased.

“I have done mailings for Princess, P&O and Cunard. They did really well and I have lots of bookings.

“I am getting good feedback from customers who are desperate to get away.”

Caroline Donaldson, product and commercial director at Barrhead Travel, said regular cruisers and new-to-cruise customers are interested in the UK sailings.

“With great options on offer for families, such as the Disney Cruise Line experiences, we’re expecting demand to keep rising as more itineraries are released and public interest piques,” she said.

“Availability in accommodation across the UK this summer is also tight which has prompted more interest from those who may not have previously considered cruising.”

Sara Dunham, chief officer – travel and leisure services for The Midcounties Co-operative’s Travel division, added: “The ships themselves are proving to be a major draw as customers seek out luxury accommodation, dining and entertainment experiences, after months at home.”

“To capitalise on the ‘seacation’ trend, we have quickly adapted our customer offers online and via social media to really showcase what’s available.

“Being on the end of the phone and talking through the, sometimes, complex scenarios is really helping customers to make decisions and to book.”

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