CLIA in 06: More ships, passengers, home-based agents

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) estimated that its 19 member cruise lines will carry approximately 11.7 million passengers this year, 500,000 more than the number of people who took a cruise in 2005.

CLIA released estimated year-end statistics, 2006 projections and the results of a travel agent survey last week.

The cruise industry will invest $135.5 billion in building at least 22 ships before 2009 draws to a close, and six new ships coming on-line this year will increase net capacity by 4.5%, according to CLIA.

Occupancies are predicted to remain flat at 103%, the association said.

And the results of a survey of member travel agents indicates that CLIA agents are ready to help fill the new crop of ships.

About 55% of retailers surveyed for the report said they have high hopes for a significant or moderate rise in sales during the current Wave season.

Retailers were less ebullient about projections for 2006 than they were in closing out 2005, however, when 71.7% reported their cruise sales were up moderately or substantially.

Selling from home

The makeup of the surveys 850 travel agency respondents is news in itself -- 55% of CLIAs member agencies are home-based.

The statistic reflects an evolution in the balance of CLIAs agent members, and indicates the strength of the home-based agency as part of the cruise distribution system, CLIA Chairman and Norwegian Cruise Line Executive Vice President Andy Stuart said during the presentation.

Retailers surveyed by CLIA said 47.2% of their clients booked six months or more in advance.

The statistic suggests that by achieving a better balance of pricing and demand, the cruise lines may have pushed out the booking window, Stuart said.

This is the first year that CLIA asked agents specifically about advance-booking patterns.

Agents surveyed by CLIA said the top five regions for cruising in 2006 would be the Caribbean, Alaska, Hawaii, the Mediterranean and Europe.

Stuart said, somewhat wryly, that Hawaiis occupation of the No. 3 position was a surprise, especially when you look at capacities in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.

It bodes well for whoever happens to be in Hawaii at the moment, he said.

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