For at least the last decade, most cruise lines have devoted themselves to nurturing a younger clientele. The dream has been to capture cruisers in midlife and hold on to them for the next 30-40 years. Now, COVID-19 is turning this strategy on its head.
Most international ports are on the verge of welcoming Americans warmly, if everyone on the ships (crew members and guests alike) are vaccinated and eager to spend money on meals, excursions and hotels. As an essential plus, most seniors are already vaxed and—according to several recent surveys—want to sail on ships on which everyone is vaxed. The following statistics were based on data reported last week by The New York Times.
Promising Cruise Markets for Seniors
Vaxed Seniors (65+)
|San Francisco suburbs||Contra Costa||87%|
|Los Angeles suburbs||Orange||79%|
These are the stats for all the seniors in some communities where cruising is popular. If cruise lines used their lists of those that had cruised with them, the vaccination rates for former guests in these communities would all likely be at least 90% now. This makes these seniors a perfect target for marketing efforts by the cruise lines, on which they have previous sailed. Most of them will have the time, the money, and the vaccinations to cruise. All the cruise lines need do is shift their marketing emphasis from attracting younger cruisers to enticing these former guests to cruise. The vaccination statistics for seniors is an ideal indicator of the communities in which intense marketing efforts should begin.
What the Cruise Lines Need to Do to Make Cruising Even More Appealing to Seniors
If cruise companies are to better meet the needs of seniors, the cruises should be longer than a week or ten days. Ideally, they should be at least 16 days, allowing time for one night in a hotel after flying, offering guided excursions in departure ports, and going up the gangway somewhat refreshed. It would also help if the cruises included several overnight stays in ports that can’t be enjoyed by spending only a day ashore. The proof of this suggestion is some world cruises selling out this summer in a matter of days.
More Comfortable Connections, Seating, and Baggage Handling
The most stressful activity for many seniors is flying. Free or low-cost flight packages should always offer non-stop Premium Economy flights from gateway airports to the destination. Business Class tickets should also be an affordable upgrade and charter flights, on which everyone is vaxed, is being tried out by several luxury cruise lines.
The other affordable upgrade for flights should be door-to-port luggage delivery services that would transfer the luggage pieces, that would have gone as baggage, directly from the guest’s home to the hotel the cruise line is using—or to the guests stateroom on the ship. Luggage pickups should be five days or less before the guest leaves home, and luggage deliveries should arrive within five days after the cruise ends.
More Interactive Shore Excursions
Seniors want more time in ports to interact with locals with similar interests. These could involve meals or cooking lessons in restaurants where guests are paired with locals, photo trips with members of local photography groups, and visits to historical and cultural sites where interactions with locals are part of the experience.
More Shore Excursions That Are Suitable for Guests With Limited Mobility
Shore excursions for guests who have problems walking should go far beyond the usual “panoramic” bus tours. The shore excursions suggested in this article could—with a bit of forethought and extra planning—be made accessible to everyone on the ship. This is essential for seniors who don’t want to be singled out for special attention or invited to wait in cafes for some of the most exciting parts of the excursion.
More Inexpensive Single Supplements
Whenever a ship is projected to sail without its full capacity of guests, the cruise line should increase the number of single stateroom available to guests that pay a single supplement of less than 25%. These pricing practices should not be limited to seniors, but would be open to anyone without a cruise partner. The ships should then follow through by scheduling cocktail parties, singles-only excursions, and dance lessons. This also might be the time to bring back more “gentleman hosts” and “female hosts” to dance and dine with singles and go out with them on excursions.
What the Cruise Lines Need to Do to Assist Travel Advisors
Offer Hosted Events for Former Cruisers & Travel Advisors
Cruise lines should provide local travel advisors with more opportunities to meet potential clients who have previously traveled with the cruise line. Many travel advisors are eager to up their game, but not by competing on an uneven playing field with the cruise line’s call centers and the mass-market discounters.
After a two-year hiatus, the client lists of many highly-trained travel advisors are shrinking fast. Unless they had extensive “books” of cruisers they have previously served, optimistic projections won’t permit many to maintain viable businesses. While charging fees to clients may help their bottom lines, this won’t be enough unless the cruise lines provide more effective marketing and financial support.
The key to the advisors’ success is the lists of former guests that the cruise lines maintain. The mailings to former guests are now aimed at enticing prospects to call the cruise lines’ “800 numbers,” rather than encouraging them to meet and interact with local travel advisors. This is equivalent to automotive manufacturers selling directly to clients, rather than getting buyers to buy from local dealerships. What’s needed is for the cruise lines to sponsor “Alumni Events,” designed to get former clients together with local travel advisors, rather than forcing them to compete for every sale.
The alumni events could be in hotels or restaurants that would provide signature drinks and appetizers that are specialties of the cruise line. These would be “meet & greet” events, like cocktail parties. They would permit travel advisors, seeking to expand their business, and former guests to meet each other. Both the travel advisors and former guests (or prospects from the mailing lists) would pay $25 in return for a $100-$200 OBC, if they booked a cruise with one of the travel advisors within 30 days.
The travel advisors would have to attend training that qualified them as “travel experts” for the cruise line, and keeps them up to date on what the cruise line is offering. The host of the event would be a member of the cruise lines’ marketing group who would handle logistics, RSVPs, introductions, and make a video presentation. The travel advisors would make the bookings and handle the OBC’s. The Meet & Greet events would be offered monthly in the most promising target cities.
More Phone Inquiries to Cruise Lines Should Result in Referrals to Travel Advisors
Right now, I’d assume that most people calling cruise line 800-numbers often do not call back when their initial questions are answered. If the inquiries sound genuine, but the 800-line reps feel they can’t close the sale based on their first discussion, the representatives should be encouraged to ask the caller whether they would like to be put in touch with some expert travel advisors specializing in the cruise line; or attend a Meet & Greet event scheduled for a nearby city. The reps would receive a bonus if the prospective client took them up on either offer, and an even larger bonus if a sale was made. The guests would receive the $100-$200 OBC if they booked a cruise within 30 days.
Provide More Upfront Payments to Travel Advisors from the Cruise Lines
When a client forwards a deposit to a participating cruise line, the first $200 should go to the travel advisor making the booking. These would be paid within 14 days of the deposit being received. If the cruise line cancels the cruise, the $200 will not have to be repaid. This will provide the travel advisor with protection against having to process refunds for free.
If any payments are made for the balance of the cruise fare, an additional $200 should be provided to the travel advisor within 14 days. This, too, would not have to be repaid if the cruise line cancels the cruise.
Summing It Up
With the Delta Variant of COVID-19 now responsible for over 50% of the infections in the US., it seems evident that unless some things change on how cruises are being marketed, only the well-established travel advisors with large “books” may survive. This will be particularly true if many 2021 cruises are cancelled.
If this occurs, the new round of refund requests may lead to significant difficulties in getting prospective guests to “roll over” their bookings, or put money down on 2022 cruises. We need to acknowledge that our most likely prospects are former clients of the cruise lines and already-vaxed seniors—and act on these data.
We can no longer afford to have cruise lines competing with travel advisors. Unless we can create situations in which former guests and promising leads are brought together with travel advisors from their communities, we risk travel advisors going the way of many independent stock advisors: Either becoming employees or going out of business.
Dr. Steve Frankel and his wife have cruised on most of the Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Azamara, Oceania, Regent, and Windstar ships. He writes a weekly column, Point-to-Point, for Travel Research Online (TRO) that’s read by more than 80,000 travel advisors and industry leaders. Steve is the founder of Cruises & Cameras Travel Services, LLC. He has been recognized as a “2021 Top Travel Specialist” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine and a “Travel Expert Select “by the Signature Travel Network. His specialties are luxury small-ship cruises and COVID-19 safety measures, and has a doctorate in Educational Research with minors in Marketing and Quantitative Business Analysis. He’s also earned a Certificate in Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. Previously, he managed qualitative and quantitative research in the private & public sectors. He’s a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has written 13 books and hundreds of articles. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.