Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Consumer behaviour could push cruise further online

Bit of a delay, but here's our latest column for Travel Weekly, coinciding nicely with the last week of its dedicated Cruise Month:

Two years ago, Travolution asked whether cruise will ever follow other sectors in the travel industry and see a fundamental switch to online sales of its products.

There was plenty of talk among senior cruise executives about how the web was being used primarily as a content distribution platform ­ a place where potential customers could find out more about a ship or route.

Royal Caribbean International's Jo Rzymowska, who was sales and marketing director at the time, evangelised about its new i-brochure system; Ocean Village and Princess Cruises spoke of their live ship webcams.

The interesting point is nobody was able to estimate how much online bookings would grow.

Patrick Ryan of Island Cruises suggested first and second-time cruisers would probably want that human touch when making a booking, but the Ĺ’repeat passenger business¹ would see more people booking via the web.

That time is approaching fast for many of the major cruiselines as customers become familiar with the complicated booking processes and ­ as shown elsewhere ­ naturally turn to the web for convenience.

This will become more likely if the cruiselines recognise this trend and push cheaper fares down the online channel, as so many of their counterparts did years ago.

A surge in intuitive web-based technology is around the corner, which will allow so much more scope for search and booking of complicated products ­ like cruise.

This will not be great news for the third parties currently enjoying the benefits of a buoyant sector happy to pay commission to agencies.

This is why good customer service at the beginning of the purchase funnel ­ reflecting the high-end facilities and care on-ship ­ is more important than ever to establish loyalty.

Kevin May, editor, Travolution

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