Stellar ‘wave’ sales period for Creative Cruising

LATTE chats with General Manager, Caroline Hitchen

NTIA-award-winning Creative Cruising has witnessed significant booking demand for its packages, with the independent cruise wholesaler achieving some of its highest sales since before the pandemic, says General Manager, Caroline Hitchen.

“We’re experiencing phenomenal sales, even pushing the limits of our results in 2019,” Hitchen told LATTE last week aboard Oceania Cruises’ new ship, Vista.

A division of Express Travel Group (ETG), Creative Cruising specialises in packaged products centered around cruising, working with more than 60 cruise line partners, providing travel agencies across Australia and New Zealand with white-labeled content and websites.

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ETG acquired Creative Cruising in late 2017, injecting significant investment into technology and systems, and establishing Creative Cruising New Zealand in 2019 – operating under First Travel Group.

Hitchen said Creative Cruising has experienced increased interest from travel agency partners for high-end Antarctica itineraries – likely a result of new capacity through the likes of Silversea, Seabourn and Ponant, along with new players in the space. Voyages in the Kimberley are also running hot in the luxe space.

“The cruise market is an exciting space to operate. Now more than ever, it’s crucial for the Cruise Travel Advisor to qualify clients – the right cruise for the right client,” she said.

Caroline Hitchen, General Manager, Creative Cruising and Kylie Crouch, First Travel Group/Creative Cruising New Zealand in the Grand Lounge, aboard Oceania Cruises' Vista

Among other trends being witnessed is demand for longer cruises, back-to-back itineraries and during the recent Q1 ‘wave’ season “a shorter booking window, often within one month of departure,” Hitchen said.

In more detail, some of the trends — based on the aggregated search results of close to 200 booking sites managed by Creative Cruising — include:

  • shorter lead times than ever before during the Wave selling period, fuelled by clients seeing ships in their local harbour being driven to book inside a month from sailing
  • rising popularity of multi-generational cruising, more so on larger ships such as Norwegian Cruise Line, offering great dining options, spas, race tracks and virtual reality experiences
  • an influx in great value early booking promotions for new seasons, comprised of onboard credits, speciality dining, shore excursion credits, etc while pricing remains strong as demand thrives
  • clients seeing the significant value proposition of a cruise compared to a land-based, hotel holiday

Destinations that are proving hot right now, according to Hitchen, include Japan, Europe (Eastern Mediterranean, such as Croatia and the Greek islands), Northern Europe, Hawaii and Alaska. The Caribbean is also proving more popular than ever as advisors combine a cruise with Disney World packages and road trips through the United States.

Hitchen suggests Creative Cruising’s increased demand could be fuelled by the focus on business development over the past few years. In 2021, witnessing a gap in the market, Creative Cruising launched its membership model, Cruise Spirit, available to “high-value, high-production” cruise travel specialists, providing unique benefits and enhanced rewards tailored to its members.

Benefits of being part of Cruise Spirit include elevated point of sale commissions, exclusive offers, added benefits, specific products for members, the ability to buy as a group, and selling into select sailings.

Cruise Spirit’s membership is capped at 60 agencies in Australia and New Zealand, with around 35 already signed up before the program’s rollout across the ditch. Members need to maintain set targets to remain part of the group. Hitchen said Cruise Spirit has been very well received in the Australian market since its debut.

The inaugural Cruise Spirit Members Retreat was held in March 2023 at the Lancemore Macedon Ranges, Victoria.

Earlier this year, Cruise Spirit held an inaugural retreat for Owners/Managers along with key cruise line partners. The retreat offered a platform for partner updates, strategy sessions and forward planning, “run for the members, by the members,” Hitchen noted.

Hitchen also revealed to LATTE a rewards trip for Cruise Spirit’s Top Achievers was also in the works.

And so what did the cruise expert think of Oceania Cruises’ new 1,200-passenger upper-premium ship, Vista, experienced last week?

“The design is gorgeous. Oceania Cruises is elevating the guest experience. Vista steps the brand up to that real ‘luxe’ category,” she told LATTE.

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