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Amex agents book more cruises, especially river, but clients wait for price cuts

Viking Cruises
Travel counselors report increased demand for river cruises and that balcony staterooms are the most sought-after accommodation on any type of cruise. Pictured: A Viking Cruises veranda suite
American Express travel counselors are booking more cruises this year than last and report demand or interest in river cruising is skyrocketing. However, clients are waiting for future price cuts and many ask for on-board credits.

And most agents are focused on getting repeat customers to cruise, rather than drumming up new business.

An American Express Travel survey of 276 travel counselors conducted in March by Ebiquity (formerly Echo Research) found nearly nine of 10 book cruises and half (44%) are making more cruise bookings than last year while one in four (24%) reports fewer cruise bookings and a third (32%) see no change.

River cruising is in more demand than mega-ship cruising, the agents said. Thirty-six percent report river cruises are the most popular category, followed by mega-ship cruises (27%), premium cruises (15%) and small ship cruises (5%).

Seventy-one percent cited increased demand for river cruises, however 65% of those said that has not diminished their big ship sales.

Balcony staterooms are the most popular type of accommodations, according to 74% of the travel counselors.

On-board credits are the most requested item (43%), followed by stateroom upgrades (20%).

The most effective driver in getting customers to book is a discount (42%), followed by on-board credit (25%), free air (15%), pre-paid gratuities (12%) and reduced deposit (6%).

Most of the agents (59%) said they will get cruise bookings from repeat customers, with 8% planning to spark business using targeted mailings, 6% with their agency website, 6% using social media, 6% with digital email blasts, 3% with print advertisements, 1% with cold calls and 11% using other methods.

The most typical challenge to closing cruise sales is customers waiting for the price to drop (42%), less spending on vacations (36%), interest in land-based tours and vacations (34%), negative publicity surrounding cruising (34%) and customers booking online (29%).

The counselors polled have booked an average of 26 cruises this year, 56% of those for seven nights, 36% for eight or more nights and 8% for one to six nights.

Some 75% of the agents said their clients are booking cruises as often as other categories of travel.

Ebiquity put the survey's margin of error at plus or minus 5.9 points at the 95% level of confidence.

American Express Travel's Summer Cruise Sale, through July, is offering deals on a wide variety of lines with ships big to small in contemporary, premium and luxury categories, as well as river cruises. The offers include complimentary dinners in specialty restaurants, pre-paid gratuities, on-board credit, spa credit, free upgrades and savings.

Information is here.