Cruise virgins take to the sea

By Giles Hawke

  NEARLY half the estimated 1.25 million UK holidaymakers who booked a cruise this year did so for the very first time. 
Although cruising boasts one of the highest repeater levels of any holiday, it has also been attracting increasing numbers of first-timers.

The recent wave of new ships, shorter itineraries and brands combined with more informal styles of cruising, have played a big part in attracting cruise virgins.

Ocean Village was designed with them in mind. It has no dress codes and no fixed seating or sittings for meals as the main restaurants operate running buffets.

The entertainment runs day and night and many of the shore excursions involve mountain bikes, zip-wires, and kayaks rather than the traditional coaches and museums.

Next year, Ocean Village is introducing a second ship, which will operate new summer itineraries in the eastern Mediterranean and winter Caribbean cruises. But all cruises are still just a week long with plenty of ports and the option of a week land stay, accommodating first-timers’ concerns about committing all their holiday to a cruise.

Cruiselines are increasingly operating short, sampler cruises, which offer a toe in the water to first-timers as well as being a popular option for regular cruisers who have time only for a short break.

P&O's Weekender Party cruises to Bruges have proved popular among first-timersP&O Cruises now has a separate City & Short Breaks programme of 22 Southampton-based cruises on all five of its ships, none longer than seven days. Seven of the 22 are Weekender Party cruises to Bruges and one of the most popular of these has proved to be the pre-Christmas (December 16) departure.

Cunard Line also offers newcomers packages on selected cruises, which include welcome parties, on-board credit and champagne on arrival.

First-timers are also attracted to the transatlantic voyages of Queen Mary 2, which often carry passengers who have never wanted to go on a cruise but have always wanted to make the classic Southampton-New York crossing.

There are also passengers on world cruises who have never been on a cruise before. Some book just a sector but others book the full three-month voyage.

Giles Hawke is head of sales at Complete Cruise Solution


PSARA facts and selling tips

By Andy Harmer

  • Andy Harmer, director of business development, PSARA Retail Agents scheme Cruise ships offer customers outstanding levels of customer service – not just in entertainment and dining, but also in terms of personal service on-board – which is worth pointing out to prospective first-timers.
  • The range of destinations on offer is a great selling point – and some of those destinations are accessible only from a cruise – so while the cruise itself is a great selling point, so too are the destinations and itineraries.
  • Cruise ships are the ideal places to get in shape. Most ships feature state-of-the-art gym equipment and swimming facilities. In addition, many onboard spas far surpass their land-based equivalents meaning cruisers have every opportunity to finish their cruise holiday looking fitter and healthier than before.
  • Shore excursions vary from ship to ship and itinerary to itinerary, ranging from simple sightseeing to trips to elephant sanctuaries, camel rides and daredevil motorcycle tours.
  • Size really does matter when it comes to cruising. Larger ships are practically floating resorts and are excellent for families. Couples will prefer the smaller, more intimate ships that are able to visit smaller, lesser-known ports, and the medium-sized ships will appeal to those seeking a traditional form of cruising.
  • The increase in the number of ships, and range of ships available, means that there is a product to suit everyone. Once you have found out what your client is looking for, include a cruise as one of the holiday options that match their needs – and be prepared to explain the benefits.
  • Knowing the cruise product range and benefits is essential, as well as the selling tips and techniques associated with cruise so ensure you are prepared through the excellent cruise training available through PSARA, and the more specific product training from the cruise lines.


Selling cruises: dos and don’ts

  • DO encourage clients to compare the cost of cruising with that of a land-based holiday as many people imagine cruising to be expensive. Ensure customers understand what will be included in a cruise package.
  • DO remember that cruise and stay can be a great option for first-timers who are nervous about the experience. It allows new cruisers to sample life at sea but also become acquainted with a particular destination.
  • DO encourage customers to book early to get great deals. With today’s last-minute culture, many cruisers will be unaware that cruising operates differently to other types of holiday.
  • DO suggest cruises as the perfect family holiday. With plenty going on for all ages and minimum hassle, they are ideal holiday options for family gatherings.
  • DO emphasise the simplicity of sailing from the UK. No queues, no aggravations and exceptional customer service mean that holidays are relaxing from the start.
  • DO suggest a shorter cruise to test the waters. Although many cruises are two weeks, many cruiselines offer three or four-night cruises, which are perfect for first-timers.
  • DO ask questions. Remember that there are more than 30 cruiselines in the UK market and hundreds of destinations. Ensure you know your cruises so you can tailor the holiday to customers’ needs. The customer will be more likely to book again if you have found an ideal cruise.
  • DO make the most of themed cruises. For example, if a customer is after a wine-tasting break, a wine-themed cruise visiting vineyards with experts could be ideal.
  • DON’T assume that a customer is not a cruiser. Instead, look at his or her preferences and choose the cruise that fits the individual. There is no right cruise for everyone, but everyone has a cruise that is right for them.
  • DON’T forget about destination. The fact that someone has never cruised before does not mean that they should automatically start with a Mediterranean cruise – Alaskan or South American itineraries will be a tempting prospect for the more adventurous first-timer.

Andy Harmer is director of business development for the PSARA Retail Agents scheme