The Latest News and Updates From Expedia Cruises
The article was published on June 17, 2021 in Travel Age West.
Earlier this week, at the kickoff to the three-day Expedia Cruises 2021 Virtual Conference, executives from Expedia Group shared trends they are seeing in the industry as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The time is now to bring all of us together and move forward,” said Matthew Eichhorst, president of Expedia Cruises, who predicts a three-year path (from 2021 to 2023) to consist of three distinct periods of recovery.
This year, as ships slowly but steadily relaunch, will require agents to “be the best leader [they] can be,” which means engaging with past customers, answering their questions and booking them and any of their traveling companions collectively before the competition does.
In 2022, a “growth period” is expected to start with a strong Wave Season, thanks to mass networking leading to personal sales. Seventy percent of agents surveyed by Expedia anticipate conversion levels on par with 2019 by next year.
Then ultimately, by 2023, “we will regain industry-leading performance,” during a “performance period,” according to Eichhorst.
In short, “recovery is near,” said Greg Schulze, senior vice president of transport and cruise at Expedia Group. As vaccination rates increase and travel restrictions are relaxed, consumers are not just looking to sail in 2022 and 2023, but as soon as they can. For instance, 44% of this year’s new first quarter bookings in the U.S. were for 2021 departures, and 20% of those are for this summer, specifically.
Ealeen Wong, director of strategy and business development for Expedia Cruises, explained why: “People are eager to make up for missed moments.”
The numbers show it, too. Among the statistics she shared, the average length of cruise reservations has increased from nine days in the first quarter of 2019 to 11 days in the same time period in 2021, and the average spend per cabin has also risen by just over 100% for bookings year-over-year.
There is also increased interest from younger travelers. While Millennials (53%) and Gen Z (56%) are almost equally comfortable with taking a cruise, Millennials (12%) are almost twice as likely as Gen Z (7%) to have already booked one to sail in the next six months.
Wong further indicated that the common denominator among the most successful cruise consultants and franchisees at this time is a willingness to continue learning and building relationships with their clients.
Coinciding with growing average cruise lengths is more customers looking to book world voyages, as well as exotic itineraries. However, the Caribbean and Europe, as well as Alaska, remain popular.
“People have been sitting at home and dreaming,” said Kyle Matheson, an Expedia Cruises franchise owner in Richmond, British Columbia.
What’s more, Matheson is witnessing clients who may have previously chosen an inside cabin now elect to upgrade to a balcony. Plus, customers are viewing travel as a reconnector and desiring trips with the whole family.
“This is the day of the travel professional,” Matheson said, and Cathy Denroche, director of sales for Western Canada and Pacific Northwest at Oceania Cruises, agrees.
“An advisor is going to play the most important role” moving forward, she said. Customers want to avoid getting stuck somewhere on hold with each supplier, and an agent can be a convenient central resource for them all.
When asked if any remaining cruise travel restrictions — such as physical distancing, masking, sanctioned shore excursions or vaccinations — are deterring or accelerating sales, Eichhorst indicated that it depends on the booking window. Travelers’ comfort levels are currently evolving and changing based on their preferred target dates.
In either case, “the world is ready,” according to Oceania’s Denroche, and cruise loyalists “haven’t lost one ounce of confidence.”
To that end, the travel agency franchise company has recommitted to sales training and updated its Cruise Search Results tool, where agents can shop and compare cruises for their clients — and even share up to five itineraries in a single email.
Altogether, the Expedia Group Partner Central tech platform makes it easier to complete administrative tasks and market to customers, while an “omnichannel” sales strategy personalizes the method — either in-store, by web or on the phone — to each client.
The consumer-facing educational website is also slated for enhancement to better list onboard amenities, explain cruise fare inclusions and describe port experiences.