Tech-savvy travel agents that specialize in cruise bookings are capitalizing on popular social media services and other emerging technologies to build online communities, nurture customer relationships and increase bookings, according to a new survey released by Amadeus North America and the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). The survey, "From ‘Likes’ to ‘Leads’: Cruise Agents, Social Media and the Impact of Emerging Technologies," was conducted online in March and examines how cruise travel agents, as well as cruise lines and cruisers, are using and planning to use new tools and technologies to their best advantage. More than 1,000 North American travel agents responded.
“Just like in other industries, travel professionals see emerging technologies — and especially social media – gaining momentum as legitimate and useful business tools,” said Scott Gutz, President and Chief Executive Officer for Amadeus North America. “It has room to run, but agents are already considering, testing and generating business using popular social channels to serve their customers and enhance their bottom-line.”
Survey results show that 54 percent of cruise agents actively use social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and others to generate cruise leads. Agents drive leads through social media by engaging customers (68 percent), advertising (43 percent) and promoting new products or services (39 percent). Only 19 percent of respondents, however, indicated they use social media to provide travel advice or allow customers to share travel experiences.
And “getting social” means getting leads for many cruise agents. Fourteen percent of the agents surveyed reported at least 30 percent of their cruise customer leads come from social media interactions. Additionally, agents who use social media report attracting a higher percentage of first-time, younger cruisers, creating long-term relationship building opportunities for repeat sales. Nearly 20 percent of agencies that cater to cruise passengers under the age of 45 reported generating more than a third of their leads from social media.
“Unquestionably, social media is a gateway for agents to younger, non-traditional cruise passengers who will be cruising in the future,” said Gutz. “At the same time, studies show the fastest growing adoption of social media use is with the ‘over 50’ demographic, creating new marketing opportunities with traditional cruisers, too.”
Other technologies covered in the survey include mobile devices and cruise booking automation.
While social media is establishing itself as a credible business tool for cruise agents, the survey found less enthusiasm among agents for another emerging technology: mobile applications. Less than 40 percent of agents indicated that mobile applications would help their business, and less than half believe that passengers would value in-cruise apps that notify them about onboard events, dining notices, dress codes and similar information.
In terms of reservations automation, agents who use technologies supplied by global distribution systems (GDS), third-party booking engines or travel websites reported significantly greater stateroom bookings on an average annual basis than did agents who rely mainly on more traditional methods such as direct phone calls to the cruise lines.
“We are pleased to co-sponsor this study with Amadeus because social media and other emerging technologies have set sail, taking the cruise industry in new directions. Agents are getting on board and finding new ways to do business,” said Bob Sharak, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Distribution for CLIA. “That is why CLIA is focused on providing continued education and other offerings to assure cruise agents are ready to serve the cruisers of the future.”