As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, cruise bookings have shifted away from intermediaries with cruise tourists opting to book directly with the cruise line rather than through an Online Travel Agent (OTA) or the high street, finds GlobalData, the leading data and analytics company.
Industry revenue from cruise intermediaries in 2021 increased by 65% year-on-year (YoY) from $11.8 billion to $19.5 billion. However, cruise passengers have increased at a significantly higher rate. According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), cruise tourism had risen by 95% YoY from 7.1 million to 13.9 million people.
Discussing GlobalData’s findings from its recent report, ‘Key Trends in Cruises (Cruise), 2022 Update – Analysing Key Market Trends, Opportunities, Challenges, and Projects’, Craig Bradley, Associate Travel & Tourism Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “Unlike other sectors in travel and tourism, the percentage increase in revenue for specialist intermediaries is not correlative with cruise passenger growth in 2021, suggesting that cruise tourists now prefer to cut out the middle-man and book directly with the cruise line.”
In a pandemic situation, it is generally expected both passenger revenues and trips to be broadly similar in their growth rate, with only marginal differences. For example, if we look at global outbound travel in its entirety, total trips increased by 95% YoY in 2021 and outbound revenues increased by 99% YoY according to GlobalData’s Tourism Demands and Flows Database. However, when we look specifically at the cruise industry, it is clear that intermediaries are underperforming with revenue increases 30% lower than passenger growth.
On the other hand, further research from GlobalData reveals that this change in booking behaviour reflects the current consumer sentiment towards intermediaries. In a Q3 2019 Tourism Consumer Survey, 44% of respondents said they typically book via an intermediary such as an OTA. However, in a Q4 2021 survey, only 24% of respondents said they booked their last holiday via this booking method. In addition, respondents who said they booked directly with the provider increased from 32% to 36%.
Bradley adds: “There is a whole list of reasons why travellers now prefer to go direct, all of which are a result of the pandemic. Some want more flexibility and peace of mind, while others have had their confidence damaged due to poor customer experience, particularly dealing with refunds.
“Furthermore, the skills shortages in the industry are also problematic, with many cruise sales agents laid-off during the pandemic and subsequently moving into different careers. However, these issues are all fixable, indicating that this may be just a temporary shift, but cruise intermediaries must act now to ensure they can capture demand in 2022.”