An increase in new-to-cruise customers is driving a record-breaking wave period as sales substantially surpass 2023 levels, according to the trade.
Agencies have praised the performance of the new-to-cruise market, saying it has not diluted sales of land-based or package holidays but has grown independently.
Competitive pricing and dedicated charter flights have been cited as reasons for a strong start to January, with ex-UK departures and Mediterranean itineraries the most popular among new-to-cruise customers.
The Advantage Travel Partnership reported an 88% increase in cruise sales from January 1 compared with the same period last year. Chief commercial officer Kelly Cookes credited agents’ expertise, saying: “Advantage members are presenting a cruise option for their clients’ holidays like never before, and it’s working.
“Our focus on cruise is a key part of our overall strategy and, with cruise accounting for a third of our sales through members, we expect 2024 to be an exceptionally strong year. The increase [in cruise sales] is down to the pure volume [of customers] rather than the share moving from other products.”
Dave Mills, chief commercial officer at Iglu Cruise, hailed demand from the new-to-cruise market, saying the agency had seen a rise in customers adding a short cruise on to package holidays.
Importance of wave period
He emphasised the importance of the wave period, saying: “With several record days so far, it does seem as if this is still the most important month for sales volumes.”
Stefan Shillito, managing director of The Sovereign Cruise Club, reported a “substantial” increase in bookings, with new-to-cruise sales up 45% year on year due to “luxury cruising looking even better value than it already was” following a “huge increase in flight and hotel costs since the pandemic”.
Not Just Travel co-founder Paul Harrison said the agency’s daily cruise sales were twice what they were this time last year, boosted by the “incredible” performance of the new-to-cruise market and the attraction of ex-UK departures and short durations for first-time cruisers.
Harrison attributed the rise in new-to-cruise sales to the agency’s creation of a cruise division, and emphasised cruise sales were “in no way cannibalising land-based sales”.
Switch from land‑based holidays
However, Tony Andrews, managing director of Cruise.co.uk, said the retailer was seeing a rise in customers switching from land‑based holidays as they “recognise the inherent value” of a cruise.
“We get a lot of new-to-cruise customers saying they want to save money, and when they compare land-based and cruise, they recognise the quality and value they can get in cruise, so they switch,” he said.
Despite reporting a “record week for cruise” last week, Hays Travel predicted a greater performance was on the horizon, as head of cruise Catriona Parsons said: “The best is yet to come.”
Her thoughts were echoed by Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson who forecast a strong first quarter, saying: “Historically, wave often generates higher volumes during February, but we’ll see consistently strong demand throughout the course of Q1 because of keen pricing and a wider variety of customers choosing to book cruise for the first time.”