Travel agents will be as important to cruiselines’ distribution in 2020 as they are today, Carnival UK boss David Dingle has admitted.

The company’s Cruise Report 2008, out this week, has forecast there will be two million annual UK cruise passengers by 2012 and as many as five million by 2020.

Dingle said: “In a market of five million passengers by 2020 we will continue to need the travel agent community just as much as now to convert their package holiday customers into cruise customers.”

Agents remain the biggest source of first-time cruise customers, he added.

The report credits agents with significantly boosting the awareness of cruise holidays over the last two years by funding more advertisements themselves and as a result of more mainstream agents selling cruises.

Dingle said: “One of the biggest changes has been in the attitude of the travel agency community. So many of them have adopted cruising as a key and mainstream part of their product range and it is remarkable, as is the growth in specialist cruise agents. They are now doing some of our marketing for us.”

Much of the advertising is not price-driven but aims to add value and is helping to ­secure year-round bookings, said Dingle.

He added: “Because agents are using advertising in a wider variety of newspapers, they are reaching a wider demographic and this is helping
attract the first-timer cruisers we need to fill our new ships.”

But he admitted the result of the increased advertising was that many passengers booked immediately with agents and less time was being spent on researching if the ship brand was right for the customer.

“We are working to convey to agents that brand and ship differences remain as important as ever to attract the right people to the right ships,” said Dingle.