Cruise operator Regent Seven Seas Cruises is targeting wealthy baby boomers in the resilient Middle East and Asian travel markets in a bid to escape the global economic slowdown.
As the globe continues to suffer an economic downturn and the resilience of the international travel market remains uncertain, Regent Seven Seas Cruises has unveiled a battle plan that involves strategically targeting high-end expatriate customers in the growing Middle East cruise industry.
"While there are obviously immediate challenges in light of the global economy, the prospects for the luxury cruise market are very healthy, as there are more and more baby boomers retiring each year that are wealthy and wish to travel the world in style and luxury," explains Regent Seven Seas Cruises international account director Blanca-Stella Lanao.
The amount of revenue a travel agent can make from selling cruises is quite phenomenal.
Furthermore, Lanao says that having been "impacted to a certain degree" by the credit crunch, the company is "looking at more resilient markets like the Middle East and Asia, which continue to have strong financial support".
Operating the only all-suite, all-balcony ships in the world - the Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner - the firm claims to attract sophisticated travellers and experienced cruisers, cultured, aged 45-years old and over, affluent, lovers of the arts and philanthropists.
These are the customers that travel agents should be tailoring their cruise marketing towards, says Kanoo Travel country manager UAE and Oman Sunil D-Souza.
"While many people are currently apprehensive about spending, the top-end customers have no problem, they have made their travel plans and they're going," he says.
"This attitude is also shared to some degree by the middle market segment, though they do tend to be slightly more cautious."
D-Souza also observes that another implication of the current financial situation is that fewer expatriates are returning to their home countries. Instead many are opting for a cruise holiday, which combines the hotel stay with sightseeing for a lower cost.
He says that "cruise liners are going to be the choice of the future across the spectrum".Both Lanao and D-Souza agree that the key to selling cruises in the Middle East and attracting top-end customers, as well as boosting awareness across the corporate market, is increased co-operation between cruise liners, travel agents and DMCs.
"The Middle East is an emerging market that is becoming more and more exposed to the cruise industry as more ships visit the region and awareness increases," says Lanao.
She says the company's 2009 action plan involves working with more agents that sell luxury cruises in the region, as well as working closely with Cruise Master Middle East for increased penetration in the market.
However, D-Souza says that in order for this to work effectively, travel agents need to be better trained in selling cruises.
"Most of the holiday companies here in the UAE do not offer much information on cruises and they generally don't invest in advertising or promoting this kind of holiday," he says.
"It takes more time to book a cruise holiday; you have to outline the product to the client, give them all the features and benefits and the overall process is longer than other holiday products that are sold in package units.
He adds: "There should be training in place because not all holiday companies in Dubai have trained staff with a full understanding of the cruise industry."
"Having an online tool would also be advantageous because it would reduce the process and turnover time."
The internet should definitely be one of the initiatives used to promote the cruise business in this region.
According to Lanao, Regent Seven Seas Cruises does not currently offer online booking capability and most business is sourced via travel agents.
However, the trade does not have the opportunity to learn online through the company's website and through training provided by sales agent partners.
"Online training is good," says D-Souza. "Also, companies are moving towards online booking tools. This is all necessary preparation for the future."
I see a big market for cruising in this region. That's great for the travel industry as historical data shows that the amount of revenue a travel agent can make from selling cruises is quite phenomenal.
Commission earnings on an average booking for Regent Seven Seas Cruises can be anywhere from AED 3304 (US $900) to more than AED 5506 ($1500). In addition, travel agents can make extra cash on flights to and from the port of departure and ground arrangements including airport transfer, add-on trips and tours and accommodation.
Kanoo Travel is currently focusing on selling cruise holidays because as D-Souza explains, "the amount of revenue you can earn on a cruise booking is higher compared to a hotel per a unit".
He notes that by thinking ahead, agents booking cruises for both leisure and corporate travellers can maximise the revenue they make by organising added extras.
"Inbound incentives in this region are a great market," he says, referring to opportunities to sell ground arrangements to cruisers disembarking at Middle East destinations.
There's a proper infrastructure in place and hotels offer excellent banqueting and conference facilities. Companies from Europe and the Far East are finding it very attractive to bring their teams here.
D-Souza says the tourist attractions in Dubai and surrounding areas are a big drawcard for the leisure market but warns travel companies to be fully equipped to handle travellers' itineraries as soon as they hit the ground.
So while there is still caution in the air in light of the global economy, there appears to be a huge potential in the region for quality cruise liners like Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
In fact, the resilient Middle East market has created an opportunity for luxury cruise lines and travel companies to tap into the niche high-end sector.
"It's going to be a huge market, which is currently not being fully explored in this region," concludes D-Souza.
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