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Get Ship Shape for 2018

The cruise industry provides a huge ‘porthole’ of opportunity for savvy Middle East travel firms over the next 12 months, says Peter Whittle, Global Sales Director, Traveltek Group Ltd

The global cruise industry continues to grow at pace with a record 27.2 million passengers projected to sail in 2018, the latest statistics from Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) reveal.

This compares to 25.8 million in 2017 and represents a 20.5% increase in passenger volume over the last five years (from 2011), according to the association’s ‘2018 Cruise Industry Outlookreport released last month (December 2017). More than 27 new ocean, river and speciality ships are set to debut next year, which will help soak up this growing demand.

At the same time, CLIA issued ‘The Contribution of the International Cruise Industry to the Global Economy in 2016’ study, which found overall cruise industry expenditures generated $126 billion in output worldwide in 2016, up 7.6% or $10 billion on 2015 and supporting more than one million full-time employees.

North America and Europe are by far the biggest source markets, accounting for 50% and 27% of all cruise passengers respectively. However, the ‘Rest of the World’, which contributes the remaining 23%, shows the strongest growth potential given it accounts for nearly 85% of the world’s population.

These figures spell good news for the Middle East’s inbound and outbound cruise markets, which continue to expand at a rapid rate and over the past few years, billions of dollars have been ploughed into improving the region’s cruise infrastructure, particularly in the GCC, which is becoming an increasingly popular destination with cruisers looking to explore the best of what Arabia has to offer.

At December’s Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum, some of the cruise industry’s leading players discussed how the extension of the Middle East cruise season from October to May could soon be possible, fuelled by consumer demand for pan-Gulf cruises and the development of more land-based activities in countries featuring on itineraries, including the UAE, Oman and Bahrain.

The cruise industry’s ongoing success story presents opportunities galore for Middle East travel companies to strike while the iron is hot and sell this exciting product to their customers. Whether they are first-time or regular cruisers, there are more regional and international cruises, ships and itineraries for them to sell than ever before.

Selling cruise – and packaging it with other travel components – could not be easier now that Traveltek has introduced its advanced cruise technology in the region.

Having opened an office in Dubai last year, we have already witnessed strong demand for our solutions, which make dynamic packaging easier than ever.

For the first time, agents, tour operators and wholesalers in the region can pull together complex pre- and post-cruise itineraries, making the most of the trend for land-based experiences that CLIA so rightly highlights, and package them all together.

We recently made several enhancements to our technology, unveiling our next-generation booking platform, CruiseNX, at the end of last year.

It offers travel and cruise specialists a wide range of enhanced capabilities designed to drive productivity and enhance the user experience and is available for desktop and as a new B2C website journey. From a more streamlined booking process and the ability to book multiple cabins in one search journey, to fast filtering that helps agents find the ideal cruise based on their customer’s preferences and profile, CruiseNX is designed to transform the way the industry sells cruise.

When you combine these enhancements with Traveltek’s unrivalled content of 190-plus cruise lines, dynamic packaging tool, plus multi-currency and multi-language capabilities, we are taking a major leap forward in helping the industry drive more cruise sales via all distribution channels. This technology comes at just the right time given the bright future entities such as CLIA predict for the industry.

The association’s wide-ranging research also reveals how this year, travel agents around the world will continue to witness “steady demand from consumers planning and executing vacations”.

At the same time, the association has cited ‘experiential travel’ as a key cruise industry influence in 2018. Cruisers will seek “transformational experiences”, from cultural immersion to extreme adventures.

It’s a trend that the region’s top cruise destinations are taking on board, in particular, Dubai, which has stressed the need to show passengers the “soul” of the emirate, and going forward we can expect a concentration on excursions that show the heritage of the city and its historical districts.

Dubai currently remains the region’s leading cruise destination, with Dubai Tourism revealing the emirate remains on track to achieve its target of one million cruise tourists by 2020, buoyed by major investment in new ports and cruise terminals, as well as major tourist attractions.

Dubai’s 2017-2018 cruise season is now well under way and it’s on track to be the emirate’s busiest yet. Port operator DP World is expecting at least 115 luxury cruise ships operated by 22 cruise lines to berth at Mina Rashid’s Dubai Cruise Terminal facilities during the season, delivering more than 650,000 passengers to the city’s shores. This compares to the 625,000 cruise tourists who visited Dubai during the 2016/2017 cruise season.

With passenger volumes soaring, more ships sailing the seas and crucially, sophisticated cruise booking technology now available, there are more reasons than ever for the Middle East trade to sell cruise in 2018, so why not take the plunge?

Traveltek will be attending this year’s Arabian Travel Market, which takes place in Dubai from April 22-25, 2018. Peter Whittle will be a panellist at the ‘Sea of Change’ seminar session, which will discuss how the travel trade can make the most of the Middle East’s outbound cruise market.