SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - Expedia Cruises has announced a new suite of tools designed to support cruise lines, franchise partners and Vacation Consultants by making their ability to search for, choose and ultimately distribute cruises easier and more seamless. The new tools also help partners identify new and evolving pockets of demand, an increasingly important requirement for the industry as it navigates recovery this year.
Positive search data in Q4 last year for cruises in 2021 signified substantial pent-up demand from cruise travelers eager to sail again as soon as possible1, although ongoing regulations, testing, vaccine rollout and cleanliness protocols remain at the heart of the industry’s restart. Early indications from this year suggest interest is still strong. In January, there was a +35% increase in US searches compared with the month before, for cruises in 2021. There was particular interest for travel dates in May, June and July 2021, with the Caribbean and Bahamas being the two most searched destinations for these months, an indication of travelers’ willingness to cruise again this summer2
In order to help cruise lines respond to fluctuating demand, Expedia Cruises listened to cruise partners and developed new tools and enhanced features in response, including:
- A new agent Cruise Search Results (CSR) view, also known as the grid view, a direct result from partners’ feedback on having a more agent-focused experience so they can more efficiently shop and compare cruises on behalf of their customers
- A Port of Call Filter, that enables partners to specify the port that they want in all itineraries returned from the cruise search
- An enhanced Date Picker tool to navigate across years – an important update given the expectation of a booster years in 2022 & 2023 for the cruise industry
- An updated Itinerary Filter that combines the functionality of the destination filter and the itinerary filter used previously, enabling Expedia Group Partner Central, the technology platform available to travel partners who work with Expedia Group, to support searching for multiple cruise itineraries, such as the Bahamas and the Caribbean
- New Promotion Filters that mean Vacation Consultants can now also sort inventory based on exclusive promotional inventory and rates, including member only pricing deals.
In addition to the tools, Expedia Cruises have set up Local Vacation Consultants to help travelers make an informed decision in a complex travel environment, based on local knowledge and expertise. For example, a traveler who is looking to book a trip from New Orleans will speak to a New Orleans-based Vacation Consultant who will advise on elements such as air routes and optimum sailing options. Expedia Group data shows that when an agent handles a booking, the transaction size is typically bigger because travelers choose destinations that are further away, and book more premium categories versus unassisted online bookings. For example, in 2019, the average booking value was 84% higher when US travelers booked via agent-assisted retail channels than via online channels. In Q4 2020, this number had increased to 145% higher, an indication that agent-assisted bookings are driving increasingly larger demand.3
The announcement of new tools comes at the same time as Expedia Cruises’ bigger focus on an omnichannel strategy that brings cruise supply onto one platform, creating a more frictionless experience for travelers, and boosting visibility and conversion for cruise lines on Expedia Group sites. Launched at the end of last year and continuing its rollout into 2021, it consolidates every point of purchase across Expedia Group’s offline and online cruise inventory, allowing customers to shop?for an?array of cruises and offers on their preferred method (in-store, mobile, web, or phone), either on their own or with the help of an agent.?In addition to cruises, travelers can also add Expedia?Group’s extensive supply of flights, lodging, transfers and activities to?fulfil the needs of their entire travel itinerary.
The move also allows cruise line partners to better understand and target different demographics, enabling enhanced personalization and helping to convert first-time travelers into loyal cruisers. For example, younger customers prefer to book online in a more transactional way and are often new to cruise travel. They book closer in domestic departures, seek out lower prices, and repeat at lower rates when compared to retail customers. With omnichannel, the shopping experience of the first-time cruiser can be nurtured by an agent, assisting with the booking and following up with them afterwards, where they are often encouraged to book their next cruise. The Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology in Expedia Group Partner Central allows agents to easily keep in touch with customers. This process lowers acquisition costs for cruise lines and can help repeat online transactions, ultimately helping turn a one-off customer into long-term, loyal cruisers.
Matthew Eichhorst, President of Expedia Cruises, said: “The cruise industry is experiencing a unique set of challenges and fluctuations as it continues on the road to recovery. Boosted by encouraging search data at the end of last year and January this year, we want to equip our cruise partners with the best possible technology to allow them to harness demand and ensure repeat customers when travelers are sailing again. Both our new suite of tools and the omnichannel strategy allows them to do just that.”
2 Based on Expedia Group US cruise searches for 2021 sailings
3 Based on retail channel versus online channel gross bookings, 2019 and 2020, excluding cancellations.