A little more than twice as many
dollars go into the coffers of tour operators than cruise lines --
the numbers for 2004 were $27 billion for tours, $13.3 billion for
cruises. But when you speak to executives of these two sectors,
youd think the reverse was true.
At last weeks
Tourism Cares for Tomorrow Hall of Fame inductions, the presidents
of two prominent tour operators spoke to me about their desire to
raise the profile of tour operators with the trade, and both
worried aloud that cruise lines seem to be more strongly positioned
in the minds of travel agents.
Each put it in a
slightly different context. One said that tours werent as well
understood by agents as they should be -- that the image of rigid
motorcoach itineraries, which used to be emblematic of how tours
were conducted, still lingers, whereas todays tour products might
include riverboats, significant free time and more interaction with
The other executive
simply thought tours were so superior a product that it was
baffling why someone would choose a cruise over a tour. If you want
to see Europe, really see it, youve got to take a tour. A day in a
port is not a way to see a country.
I think theyre
probably correct in their assumption that they are losing ground in
the battle for travel agent mindshare against the cruise lines. And
though there may be many small reasons, there is one very big
in the cruise industry has laid the groundwork not only to bring
exploitable economic scale to individual lines, but exploitable
marketing opportunities for the entire sector.
In addition, cruise
lines are aided by uniformity of product definition -- though each
cruise line has a distinct personality, each is ultimately
presenting variations on a theme, and product choices frequently
come down to matching a travelers demographic profile to the
handful of lines that might be appropriate to consider.
The lines have
leveraged these advantages through the focused activity of the
Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), which has doggedly
built strong bonds between cruise lines and travel
operators offer successful specialist programs, but the largest of
them pale when compared with CLIAs educational outreach.
CLIA now claims
that it has more travel agent members -- 16,000 -- than any other
organization, and this year, 40,000 CLIA certificates will be
issued for its online, video and print programs to educate travel
agents about cruising.
And CLIA continues
to experiment with the way it leverages its relationships with
travel agents. October 19th will be the worlds largest cruise
night, during which CLIA is encouraging agents across the country
to hold a cruise-themed evening, and CLIA is helping coordinate
various specials that will be offered that night only.
Even though there
are several independent, cruise-themed trade shows from which
travel agents can choose, CLIAs president, Terry Dale, said that he
found them wanting.
He responded by
creating Cruise 3sixty, a program that will include keynotes by the
top executives of the largest companies, seminars and even a
technology center with 100 computers to use to complete CLIA
educational programs. (The program will be held Sept. 30 to Oct. 2,
in Fort Lauderdale.)
All of this begs
the question: Can the tour operators engage travel agents in a
Yes, but they face
some difficulties, most tied to their diversity.
There are only 19
members of CLIA -- about half that number if you look only at
parent corporate entities. (And, one could argue, of those, only
three really matter.)
By contrast, the
U.S. Tour Operators Association has 50 active members (representing
125 brands), and National Tour Association membership stands at
some common ground among them, but their products are hardly
uniform. It would not be easy to pull a unified effort out of such
a diverse group.
Then again, tour
operators are nothing if not expert packagers.