Cruise operators should respond to travel agency demands for clearer product differentiation, says fvw’s Christiane von Pilar.
Holidays at sea – a guarantee for constant growth, healthy profits and happy customers? The cruise firms certainly give this impression when they present their plans for more and bigger ships. Cruises have become a mass product, designed for everyone and affordable for many. This is good for customers, travel agents and cruise operators.
But growth from a niche to a mass product also brings consequences. As customers and travel agents get more experienced with the product, cruises become more comparable. And whoever can compare can also criticise. So it’s not surprising that cruise operators have scored worse than in recent years in the latest fvw Cruise Study where travel agents rated them lower in all categories.
The key point is that over the last few years ships have got more exciting and innovative but above all big. And because cruise firms want to benefit from economies of scale they are not only larger but more similar. The new megaliners look the same, travel the same routes and all want to offer something for everyone. But their profile, their differentiation and, most of all, a lot of their fascination are getting lost along the way. The ‘wow’ effect that a cruise used to generate is fading.
As the fvw Cruise Study shows, other criteria such as the choice of destinations, routings and excursions are becoming more important for travel agents and their customers. These are precisely the criteria that can distinguish one cruise from another. On the other hand, the ship, which cruise operators like to promote as ‘the actual destination’, is losing importance. Moreover, the brand is also not so decisive as in the past.
All this should get cruise operators thinking. Planning for new ships that will enter service in the next few years focuses mostly on passenger capacity and a wide range of on-board activities. This makes it difficult for them to profile themselves, for example with their choice of routes and ports. This effect may already be happening to Aida whose brand rating has dropped significantly in this year’s study.
This may not matter too much yet as long as new customers keep coming. But the limits to growth are on the horizon. In the USA, the biggest cruise market, the percentage of cruise passengers out of the total population has been a constant 3.7% for years, according to industry association Clia. In Germany, the figure is already 2.7%.
So now is the time for cruise operators to listen to the messages from their sales partners. Travel agents have customers in front of them every day and know what they want: a clear choice of different products offering quality at affordable prices.