Time for a sea change: why agents and operators should tap into the lucrative cruise market

Travel agents and tour operators are constantly being told to “tap into niche markets” by industry professionals, commentators and even publications such as Arabian Travel News.

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By  Gemma Greenwood Published  December 17, 2006

|~|Royal-Caribbean-2.gif|~||~|Travel agents and tour operators are constantly being told to “tap into niche markets” by industry professionals, commentators and even publications such as Arabian Travel News. For those of you that have been mulling over this command for some time and have been deciding which specialist products or services to offer, there is one niche area you should no longer ignore. The outbound and inbound cruise market is ripe for the picking and guess what? It pays commission! This potential was highlighted as the Seatrade Middle East Maritime (SMEM) exhibition, which was staged in Dubai earlier this month, and attended by senior executives from 10 of the world’s top cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean & Celebrity Cruises, Silversea Cruises Limited, P&O Cruises and Costa Crociere SpA. In terms of inbound opportunities, Dubai is fast emerging as an alternative winter cruise destination and will welcome 50 cruise ships carrying almost 65,000 passengers, according to Seatrade managing director, Chris Hayman. He says that apart from the Caribbean, there is no other truly year-round cruise destination and key GCC ports, including Bahrain, Qatar, Dubai, and Muscat and Salalah in Oman, as well as locations in southern Iran, should start gearing up for an influx of cruisers. This poses endless money-making opportunities for inbound agents, DMCs, hoteliers, car rental companies and other travel-related services, bearing in mind that cruise passengers are not only looking for day trips and short stopovers, but pre- and post-cruise packages that could extend to days, if not weeks. And that’s just the inbound story; the GCC boasts one of the fastest growing outbound cruise markets and one of the highest-spending ones. According to Royal Caribbean, which is the only cruise company to have an office based in the GCC, customers from this region demand the best cabins and are willing to pay a premium. Unlike many basic products such as flights, hotel accommodation and car rental, cruises are rarely bought online because customers require a tailor made approach from a knowledgeable industry professional. Hayman says 90% of cruise sales are through agents and with US $15 billion being invested by cruise companies in 25 new ships between now and 2010, the opportunities the sell cruise are endless. Anecdotal evidence reveals that the region’s outbound cruise market opts for European trips and increasingly, itineraries that encompass key Asian destinations. Many cruise companies, including Royal Caribbean have noted this trend and are deploying their ships to locations that satisfy this demand. They are also signing up GSAs across the region as they start to take the GCC’s growing cruising community more seriously. Arab families are snapping up berths on the big ships, while honeymooners and ex-pats are splashing out on cabins on smaller luxury liners. “You have a product that people like,” notes Hayman. “It’s diverse, it operates globally, and it represents value-for-money.” But most importantly, he stresses, is that the cruise industry is strongly committed to pay travel agents commission at a time when other sectors are trying to cut the agent out of the picture.||**||

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