As market shares go, 70% isn't bad, so it should be welcome news for agents that CLIA's latest research shows that many cruise passengers book through agents

On the other hand, this is down a few percentage points from where it was a few years ago, which suggests to us that the CLIA research into the characteristics of today's cruise passenger ought to be required reading for agents.

For instance, the data show that cost, destination and the quality of the overall experience are the major factors influencing the selection of a particular cruise -- not the brand of the cruise line, the name of the ship or the onboard facilities.

This is good to know, but there appears to be a disconnect between the research and promotions we've seen. Judging from cruise line ads, the big drivers are the brand, the newness of the ship and the wow factor of the amenities. And speaking of amenities, according to the research, Internet access now ranks higher than the gym, the spa, the specialty restaurant and the celebrity chef. When's the last time you saw Internet access highlighted in a cruise advert?

Given their high satisfaction ratings, however, it's obvious that cruise lines are doing something right. Of all cruise passengers, 51% reported they were "extremely satisfied" and another 38% were "very satisfied."

Ominously, agents didn't fare quite so well. Only 21% of cruisers who used agents said they were "extremely satisfied" with their travel agent, and 43% were "very satisfied."

As a booking channel, agents scored lower than the cruise lines and websites in terms of offering the best price. And while agents got a higher score on service, it was by a thinner margin. In fact, they only beat the cruise lines in that category by one point, which doesn't sound like enough.  

For retailers hoping to hang on to that 70%, today's challenge appears to be more of the same: the relentless quest for ways to both support your suppliers and beat them at understanding and catering to your mutual customer.

Sound familiar?

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