Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Opportunities in the industry’s Asia expansion

Opportunities in the industry’s Asia expansion

The development of China as a cruise market means new ships are going there instead of to North America, which is a mild source of anxiety for travel agents in the U.S. and Canada.

But it also serves to put the spotlight on Asia and encourage travelers to explore that part of the world.

At Expedia CruiseShipCenters, trips to Asia were up 10% in 2013, up 37% last year and up 95% so far in 2015, said Matthew Eichhorst, president of the Vancouver-based franchise.

“That’s sending people on itineraries to Asian ports,” Eichhorst said. “It’s not all China; there might be a little bit of Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Japan.”

Two types of customers are likely prospects. The first is experienced cruisers who have seen other places — the Caribbean, Europe — and want to expand their horizons. North Americans of Asian heritage who are curious about their ancestral homes, or have relatives in Asia, are another active segment, Eichhorst said, adding that Vancouver in particular has a large population of Asian ancestry to draw on.

River cruises in Asia have been around for a while but are benefitting from the overall rise in river cruise interest, Eichhorst said.

Because of the long flight times involved in travel to Asia, cruise customers are often looking for pre- or post-cruise activities and lodging there, adding to the attractiveness of the sale for agents.

Asian cruise sales are up, in part, because at every age travelers are more adventurous than they were 20 years ago, Eichhorst said. But travelers want to feel secure about their provider.

“They are looking for a trusted brand when they go there,” he said. “There’s definitely a few operators that are in the Asia market that aren’t what you’d call North American brands.”

Eichhorst encourages his agents to think big and initiate the conversation with clients.

“Speak to all the places they can go, and people will put it on their bucket list and maybe they’ll do Caribbean four more times before they go there, but really tell the stories about amazing places you can go,” he said. “You sort of plant that seed as to the opportunity, because it’s probably an 18-months-out buy.”