The number of cruise passengers from the UK could treble in the next five years, Association of Cruise Experts director Andy Harmer told delegates.
A total of 33% of consumers surveyed in a study commissioned by ACE said they would consider taking a cruise in the next five years, although only 11% had taken a cruise in the last five years.
However, the market is becoming increasingly competitive and agents have to do something different to compete, he said.
“If you’re going to compete, then be prepared. You could specialise by region or brand, or focus on new to cruise business. As agents you have to think about those people who have never cruised and introduce them to the idea – it will set you apart from the competition.”
The market will not be over supplied even with a further ten ship launches planned for next year, he said.
“The ships are running on 105% occupancy so the supply is driven by demand. The cruise industry is still a tiny part of the holiday market so there is plenty of room for growth.”
The Mediterranean remains the most popular destination, and is set to grow as cruise ships launch winter itineraries.
The research, which was conducted by Trip Vision for ACE at the end of 2007, also found that facilities on board was the most important factor when customers were choosing a ship, followed by ports of call.
When asked they like about cruising, 35% said the food and drink and 27% enjoyed the interesting ports of call. The study named barriers to cruising as fears of sea sickness, claustrophobia and not liking the other passengers.
ACE is working on a destination tree for its website, which will help agents decide which ship is best for their customer.
“It will be a series of lifestyle-centred questions and will help people choose the right ship. We hope to launch it in the summer,” said Harmer.
He advised delegates to read the ship reviews on the ACE website written by agents to gain an unbiased perpective on the new launches.