Cruise and agents’ alliance a must
As tour operators and travel agents see margins being eroded with high taxation and increasing competition between online travel portals, the industry is looking forward to a new alliance between cruise professionals, travel agents and tour operators.
With cruise holiday as an alternative to a landbased vacation, it was expected to take off in a big way particularly because of its all-inclusive appeal. However, the potential of cruise tourism in India still remains untapped. In competitive times where airline commissions are dwindling, a new alliance between cruise professionals, travel agents and tour operators is the way forward.
The cruise market in India had to its credit more than 1,15,000 passengers setting sail annually, Shibani
Phadkar, Senior Vice President, Leisure Travel ( Outbound), Thomas Cook (India) reveals. Given that the company predicted viable potential for cruises, Thomas Cook India was the first travel company to set up an exclusive cruise division, as early as 2007. “Despite the gloom predicted by the pundits, at Thomas Cook India, we’ve seen an impressive growth of 23 per cent and upward, including FIT, GIT and MICE segments for 2013. Our cruise team has seen very interesting uptake from two strongly emerging segments - the youth and the woman-traveller. Cruises are a top draw for our ad- hoc groups too - we’ve had ‘ kitty party’ groups, ‘bachelor- and bachelorette- party’ groups, anniversary celebrations and also groups of friends,” she affirms. Leisure travel tops the company’s cruise portfolio, contributing 90 per cent of the revenue, followed by VFR ( about seven per cent) and finally business travellers (three per cent).
As Phadkar explains, the cruise industry sells ‘itineraries’ and not destinations as the ship itself is the ‘destination’. “A strong advantage is that one visits a myriad of destinations in a short span of time sans the tension of having to pack/unpack, flights or other travel. Plus, the pricing is all inclusive; which means everything from travel, accommodation and meals to entertainment is taken care of. All these factors ensure that cruise holidays’ share of the pie keeps increasing by leaps and bounds,” she states.
Throwing light on new trends in the industry, Naresh
Rawal, Vice-President, Sales, South Asia, Russia, Middle East and South Africa, Star Cruises, confirms, “While business travel, holiday and VFR trips still dominate outbound volumes, people are opting for niche products such as sports tourism, luxury travels, honeymoon packages and cruises. It reveals clear opportunities for market seg- mentation and niches. More Indians are now going for international cruises but most of them prefer short cruises, rather than the long voyages that Americans and Europeans seek. First-timers opt for short cruises to Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, as a package to these countries is cheaper. April-June is the peak season for outbound cruise tourism in India.” Cruising is cheaper than a land-based holiday as the cruise package takes care of the stay and a maximum of three meals and entertainment on board, he adds.
Cruise stakeholders should provide world- class products to their clients such as cuisines, entertainment, and international experiences to attract Indian tourists, opines Ratna
Chadha, Chief Executive, TIRUN Travel Marketing and India Representative, Royal Caribbean Cruises. “The industry stakeholders, along with the government, should make way for international cruise operators to invest in India. A complex tax regime, along with tedious immigration processes, is costing the Indian government precious foreign exchange. To bring an international cruise experience to the Indian backwaters, government has to modulate cruise policies,” she says. Talking about the benefits of cruise vacations for outbound travel agents, she informs, “Agents, who earlier handled 60 per cent of travel bookings in India, have been forced by falling airline commission revenues to focus on value- added services and the leisure market. Cruise segment, though niche is rapidly getting popular, especially international cruises and has not yet been totally tapped by the travel trade.” According to Nishith
Saxena, Director, Cruise Professionals, conventional holiday packages are becoming monotonous and predictable and travel agents need to look at products that will give their customers new experiences. “I feel agents in India will start engaging more with cruise liners, as it will not only help them stay innovative, but also assist in increasing their income,” he adds. There is a huge dearth of trained staff in the cruise sec- tor. The staff, in majority of agencies, is trained only in the airline aspect of the business of issuing tickets. Such staff needs exposure to learn and understand about international destinations to be able to suggest, promote and sell with confidence to the discerning outbound traveller, Saxena laments.
As per Sidhartha Roy, Senior Vice President, ITPL & TRN Marketing, this is a good opportunity for travel agents and tour operators, as commission from cruises is significantly higher. “For our company, travel agents can rake in commissions as high as 30 per cent. Also, there are big incentives for the B2B fraternity beyond the commission. Thus, stakeholders should continue educating and updating the travel trade about cruise products,” he adds.
Vice-President, Sales, South Asia, Russia, Middle East and South Africa, Star Cruises
Senior Vice President ITPL & TRN Marketing
Director Cruise Professionals
Senior Vice President, Leisure Travel (Outbound), Thomas Cook (India)
Chief Executive, TIRUN Travel Marketing and India Representative, Royal Caribbean Cruises