Cruise lines have not moved fast into the online booking space
Consumers considering cruise vacations tend to spend a lot of time researching online. But when the moment comes to actually make the purchase, transactions typically take place offline, according to a new eMarketer report, “The Cruise Industry: Does Online Engagement Drive Sales?”
Instead, travel agents maintain a much more significant role in the cruise industry than in other travel sectors. Travel Weekly found that 34% of cruise bookings were made through travel agents in the 12-month span ending June 2012. By comparison, only 9% of airline and 5% of resort hotel reservations were made through agents during that time.
“We actually recommend that someone new to cruising doesn’t book directly through a cruise line,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic, which provides cruise news, user reviews and research tools. “Most people have to ask a lot of questions—where they embark, do they come in a day early, … should they worry about getting seasick? It’s complicated.”
Regardless of where they book, cruisers are spending increasing amounts of time with digital media as they plan their trip. A study conducted by TNS for the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) in April 2011 found that cruisers relied heavily on online information sources during the long planning window and did not exclusively seek out information directly from cruise lines; destination websites were more popular. And while many cruisers turn to travel agents to book, only 11% considered agent recommendations as a purchase influence.
Digital research company Compete found that while unique visitors to cruise websites overall were growing, cruise lines rarely convert online shoppers to online buyers on their own sites. The monthly average for conversions via cruise sites was less than 1% between January 2011 and March 2012.
It does not help conversion metrics that many cruise lines don’t even offer bookings on their websites, especially on the more expensive end of the market.
In the natural arc of ecommerce adoption, however, online shoppers eventually become online buyers, and cruise companies will have to adapt. According to 2012 earnings statements for both Royal Caribbean and Carnival, which do offer online booking, roughly 18% to 20% of business came through direct channels.
Dedicated booking engines are paying off for cruise lines that offer them—at least in terms of online revenue share. PhoCusWright expects that almost 60% of online cruise bookings in 2014 will come via supplier websites, with the remaining purchased via online travel agencies.
As cruise shoppers engage more deeply and more often with online information about potential trips, they will expect online purchasing capabilities. In the meantime, cruise shoppers’ online shopping behaviors offer marketers rich opportunities for conversion—if they choose to pursue them.
The full report, “The Cruise Industry: Does Online Engagement Drive Sales?” also answers these key questions:
- What percentage of cruise revenues comes from online bookings?
- How much time do cruise vacationers spend planning online?
- What is the travel agent’s role in the cruise purchase process?
This report is available to eMarketer corporate subscription clients only. eMarketer clients, log in and view the report now.
Check out today’s other articles, “Marketers Push to Take Email Mobile” and “For Shoppers in Brazil, Quality of Retail Experience Matters.”