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article imageWhy the cruise industry is coasting right now

The travel industry has been affected by the do-it-yourself culture of the past decade. It’s a culture fostered by the Internet and rapidly growing, because of the ease with which consumers can now make their own arrangements, from flights to hotels to car rentals. One area that hasn’t seen a decline in bookings, however, is the cruise industry, largely because travelers want a full customer service experience. Holiday Cruise Line is one such example.
In fact, cruise vacations have flourished amidst the rise of a self-service culture, pointing to a desire from customers to have vacations be just that — a time when they don’t have to worry about any particulars.
According to a 2011 report on cruising from the Maritime division of the U.S. Department of Transportation focusing on North American cruise statistics, there has been a noticeable uptick in cruise vacations, particularly following the rebound of the 2009 recession. As a representative for Holiday Cruise Line put it, “All the planning is taken care of for you. If you go your own way planning a vacation, it’s on you to come up with not only the travel plans, but what happens on the day-to-day. Working with a cruise lets you just relax and let vacation happen to you. It takes a load off.”
Numbers back up passengers’ desire to relax during holiday-planning. According to a 2013 report from the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), cruise holidays are the fastest-growing category in the leisure travel market. The cruise industry has experienced an average annual passenger growth rate of roughly 7.2% per annum. Over 200 million passengers have taken a cruise since 1990; of that number, 70% of total passengers have gone in the past decade (from 2003 to 2013), and nearly 40% of that figure have gone in the last five years (2008 — 2013). Twenty-six new cruise ships have been contracted or will be added to the North American fleet through 2016, pointing to an ever-expanding interest for customers to opt for this sea-faring option.
Further numbers indicate that customer service plays a large role in traveler choices. According to a 2014 travel report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, customer satisfaction in airlines, in terms of the quality of in-flight service and seat comfort, are both declining. In the hotel sector, Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt all rate well (partly owing to their having more luxury properties and as a result, related high-quality service), but hotels catering to mid-market and economy sectors tend to rate below industry average in guest satisfaction. This gels with the material found in a report prepared for American Express by Echo Research in 2012, which found that consumers will spend more with companies that provide excellent service. As is to be expected, poor service can also lead to lost sales, something echoed by the representative for Holiday Cruise Line.
“When you put your vacation plans in someone else's hands, that means they have to deliver,” she explains, “but it also means that, should something go wrong or not be to your liking, you have a person to take care of it for you. There's a level of support present that isn't always there otherwise."
A 2013 report from the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association states that expanding growth in the industry means higher demand and over-capacity bookings. The Caribbean still dominates as the top cruise destination; it accounted for 37.3% of all global itineraries in 2013. What accounts for the rise in popularity? According to a report on windrosenetwork.com (an online resource for Maritime employment established in 2004), cruising offers family-friendly activities within a high-quality, customer service-oriented environment. While destination and embark points are two of the important aspects to cruise vacationers, having high-quality customer care is also vital to their overall experience. According to statistics from Cruise LInes International Association (CLIA) collected in 2008, the single-biggest influence for cruise-takers is word-of-mouth. The American Express/Echo reported similar results: they found that “consumers tell significantly more people on average about their customer service experiences, both good and bad.”
And while cruises were once considered a luxurious vacation activity reserved for upper class passengers, it’s since become an attractive vacation option for families, who appreciate the range of activities available.
"I think there is such a thing as having too many options,” the Holiday Cruise Line rep explains, “and people can feel paralyzed by that. Some people do want control over every single step, but I think that makes it hard to really, truly relax, which is what most people are looking for in their leisure time. Cruises offer a way to just let go, which is something people are looking for."
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