Cruising takes off

Strong sales in 1999 have made travel agents optimistic that cruise sales will swell in the new millennium. A new study shows that most travel agents selling cruise packages to North American clients are very optimistic about their business next year. With the growing bulge of 50-plus travelers a natural market for cruise vacations, it’s not hard to see why they’re upbeat on shipboard holidays.

Almost 85 percent of agencies surveyed believe that their cruise bookings will increase in 2000, and about one in four expect substantial gains. Forty-nine percent said cruise sales exceeded expectations in 1999. In addition, cruise sales among travel agencies affiliated with the Cruise Line International Association moved up again last year, now accounting for 50 percent of all vacation sales.

The study also shows that cruise sales are made to over half (58 percent) of the customers who express an interest. Of those customers, about four in 10 are first-timers. Seven-day cruises are most popular, while three- and four-day cruises outsell cruises of more than 10 days.

The study also looked at the role travel agents play in cruise travel. Sixty-six percent of the Canadian and U.S.gencies surveyed report that when it comes to cruise travel, most clients know generally what they want, but need help with the specifics. This is significantly higher than the number of people who need help with general vacation planning, leading to the conclusion that a well -informed travel agent is still a valued part of the cruise holiday process.