While digitalisation and proliferation of OTAs might have rendered travel agents obsolete for many people, this is apparently not the case for the luxury cruising sector where travel experts’ strong product knowledge and high-touch service make them valuable partners in selling cruises.
During an event to unveil the launch of the Seven Seas Splendor in February 2020, Steve Odell, vice president & managing director of Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC) APAC, shared with TTG Asia: “As cruise specialists we heavily depend on luxury travel agents, (although most of our business are fly-cruises) but we don’t sell the air portion. So we depend on our partnership with agents to do the land packaging and flights.”
When it comes to a luxury cruise, said Odell, a lot of customer service is required in terms of service and knowledge.
“If a potential luxury cruiser went on a mass-market cruise, it would be disastrous as they might never cruise again. Equally, someone who’s keen on a more value-for-money cruise may find us stuffy. That’s why we need travel agents, and train them well on how to sell our products. A lot of our success is built around the kind of work we do with travel agents,” he elaborated.
Moreover, travel agents also source for new customers on behalf of RSSC, which was the reason for Odell’s visit to this part of the world.
Currently, Asian luxury cruisers make up a small percentage of RSSC’s source markets, with the US emerging as the top source market, followed by Europe, and Australia, respectively.
“There are very powerful pockets of high wealth in certain countries in Asia, for example, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia,” Odell noted. “While we spend most of our marketing budget in Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan, we also have a foot in all the other places getting to know (potential luxury cruisers) in the upper echelons, because it’s a word-of-mouth business in the right circles.”
When asked what type of luxury cruises Asians generally preferred, Odell pointed to seven- and 10-day sailings to more remote destinations such as Iceland, Greenland, the Antarctica and Arctic.
The largest Asian outbound market, however, is noticeably absent.
“I think there’s an obsession with China. It’s important to note that the Chinese cruise business is totally different from the Western model. Although there’s a huge opportunity in terms of volume, the Chinese are not willing to spend as much (on luxury cruises),” Odell pointed out.
And although China’s cruise market accounted for half of the total Asian passenger volume, they mostly comprise short round-trips to Japan or South Korea.
China is therefore not a main focus for Regent Seven Seas, although Odell strongly believes in Asia’s overall “massive cruising potential”, given that the rising cruise industry is projected to grow to more than 40 million passengers globally by 2027, from the current 27 million.
Despite global headwinds, Odell believes that the luxury cruise sector will remain “resilient”, sharing that compared to the same time last year, business was up a whopping 90 per cent.
The upcoming Seven Seas Splendor will feature 175 suites with sea-facing balconies and US$200,000 handmade mattresses. The all-inclusive cruise will also house six speciality restaurants onboard, alongside regular facilities such as a pool deck, library, fitness centre and casino. Seven Seas Splendor will also mark the first time a woman, Italian captain Serena Melani, will steer a brand-new cruise ship.