The average cruise length booked jumped to 11 days in Q1 2021 from nine days in Q1 2019, and the average spending per cabin increased by just over 100% during the same comparison period, said Greg Schulze, SVP transport & cruise, Expedia Group, during the opening day of Expedia Cruises' 2021 Virtual Conference.
Forty-four percent of new bookings in Q1 in the US market were for 2021 departures, of which 20% are for this summer, he said.
In a pre-conference survey, almost 70% of attendees said cruising will be back to 2019 demand levels by the end of 2022, 'so there is great optimism,' Expedia Cruises President Matthew Eichhorst said.
Newly released Expedia research also found the desire to cruise spans different age groups. Millennials and Gen Z (ages 9-24) are comparably comfortable with taking a cruise, at 53% and 56% respectively.
Pricing matters most for cruise bookings
Despite travelers currently spending more per cabin, lower pricing matters more for cruises compared with other forms of travel in some markets. From Expedia Group and Wakefield Research that looked at what travelers value the most when booking a trip, cruise travel was the only line of business where people from numerous countries ranked low pricing as the top value.
Also, younger generations think more about environmentally friendly policies when considering cruises, most notably with Gen Z in North America ranking this in the second spot after value.
Technology and training
Expedia Group executives also talked about increased focus on technology and a desire for their cruise business to become a leader in digital experience and content, in supply and transparent pricing, and in service and trip management, removing 'friction' for travel advisors and travelers.
Launched this year, the Cruise Search Results tool, also known as the grid view, sprang from partners requesting a more agent-focused experience so they could more easily shop and compare cruises for clients. Last week the tool was updated to enable advisors to share up to five cruise itineraries in one email with a few clicks.
A new ‘info site’ experience for cruise shoppers will be rolled out in the coming months. The page will provide information about what’s on board the ship, what's included in the price and what kind of experiences travelers can have at each port. The site will continue to develop.
Other changes include the ongoing shift of franchisees and vacation consultants from Cruise Desk to Expedia Group Partner Central, the company's technology platform for travel partners. The goal is making it easier to search and shop for cruises, manage clients through customer relationship management systems, perform administrative tasks, create marketing collateral and run reports.
There will be a continued focus on the omnichannel strategy to align Expedia Group’s online and offline cruise shopping experience, providing more options for travelers to buy using their preferred method (in store, mobile, web or phone) and increasing visibility and conversion for cruise line partners on Expedia Group sites.
Omnichannel also allows cruise partners to better understand and target different demographics, enabling enhanced personalization and helping convert first-time travelers into loyal cruisers.
And there is ongoing sales training for franchisees and vacation consultants to restore confidence after a hiatus period for many, and to facilitate the cruise search, booking and trip management experience. Recent trainees who completed Expedia's Princess Cruises' Three-Day Sale training generated eight times more bookings during the sale than those without the training, according to Ealeen Wong, director, strategy & business development, Expedia Group.
A media round table moderated by Charles Sylvia, VP industry and trade relations, Cruise Lines International Association, focused on how more than ever, travelers now need support from trusted advisors for trip planning and details about health safety protocols.
Small ships and river cruises?
Asked about reports of increased popularity of small-ship and river cruises due to the pandemic, Eichhorst said that early on, ship size was a focus but now people are 'more comfortable with overall cruising.' He added that river and Europe cruises continue to have broad appeal.
As the Expedia Cruises' 2021 Virtual Conference continues, it's welcoming cruise executive speakers and special guest Capt. Kate McCue from Celebrity Cruises who'll share insights on how the pandemic has impacted sailings and her experiences.