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Strong backing for agents at sellout cruise conference

February 12, 2014 Conferences, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Travel agents are a crucial part of cruise distribution and are likely to remain so. That was one of the conclusions from the Cruise3Sixty Australasia conference in Sydney, so popular that it sold out a couple of months before being held last Friday.

APT's Geoff McGeary (centre) chats to delegates during a break at Cruise3Sixty

APT’s Geoff McGeary (centre) chats to a delegate during a break at Cruise3Sixty.

Royal Caribbean managing director Gavin Smith told the conference that about 70% of the line’s bookings came through travel agents. There was a “huge role” for agents, who would remain a vital part of the mix. If the cruise industry was to stop itself becoming commoditised, along airline lines, Smith said, “the personalities of the brands needs to be brought to life in a retail environment”. That was where agents came in.

Founder of Australian Pacific Travel (APT) Geoff McGeary said APT was getting millions of hits on its website, but of those website visitors who went on to book travel, 85% went to a travel agency to do so.

Clients did their research online, McGeary explained, but then they liked to go to an agent and say “I’ve done my research – now what do you think?” When it came to handing a considerable amount of money over, they preferred to use an agent.

On other points:

Christine Duffy, president of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said that if current cruise growth continued, Australia could surpass the US in market penetration. Melbourne and Brisbane were increasingly popular, as well as Sydney, Duffy said. In 2014 worldwide, 21.7 million people would take a cruise.

“Cruising is the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry.”

Gavin Smith said cruising was about consumer choice. “There are more brands here in Australia and that’s breeding success.”

Ann Sherry, chief executive of Carnival Australia, launched Carnival Australia’s new agent portal, www.WLCL.com.au, at the conference.

The site, accessible only by licensed Travel Agents operating in Australia and New Zealand, covers all seven cruise lines – P&O Cruises Australia, Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines, Cunard, P&O Cruises World Cruising, Holland America Line and Seabourn. They are under one umbrella online for the first time, providing agents with unified access to all brands.

Sherry said cruising had captured the middle market, the sector occupied by family holidays. It competed well with any other holiday choice, “which is why we are growing”. She predicted 10% market penetration in Australia by 2030.

APT’s McGeary predicted river cruising would just keep growing, with the Mekong, the Ganges, Russian rivers and other waterways adding trips and cruises. Dismissing suggestions of overcrowding, he said river cruise ships could raft together in ports and there was plenty of space to go “before we get across the river”. Coastal sailing was a good adjunct to river cruising, he added

McGeary went further: “I’ve found the Australian travel agent to be the best in the world,” he said. The fact that they sold a lot more long-haul and complex travel than their counterparts in other parts of the world might have something to do with it, he added. As well as its own cruise operations, APT holds a significant slice of river operator AmaWaterways and small ship operator Noble Caledonia.

Francesco Galli Zugaro, chief executive of Aqua Expeditions, said part of cruising’s appeal was its ability to provide a “nine-to-five adventure”. Clients could get out and explore floating markets in Cambodia, go piranha fishing or have some other exhilarating adventure, and then return aboard to full comforts, fine dining and happy hour.

Chairman of Sydney Ports Corporation, Nicholas Whitlam, said Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal hosted 20 ships for the whole season 10 years ago. This year it would host 160 ships, and by end of the decade, 200. The port was creating extra space to handle even the biggest, 5000-passenger ships – even three at a time.

Following the successful Cruise3sixty operated by CLIA North America for the past 10 years, Cruise3sixty Australasia 2014 was the inaugural travel agency conference of the cruise industry to be held in the Australasia region.

Written by : Peter Needham

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