There are many popular myths and misconceptions about cruising, particularly among the uninitiated.
These typically and inaccurately include anxiety about seasickness, the ageing profile of passengers and concerns about the numbers of people on board.
All of these I can dispel straight away but there’s one that continues to annoyingly niggle away yet never seems to be dispelled.
This is the perception that cruises are all-inclusive and it comes at a time when an increasing number of hotels and resorts are opting to provide an ‘all-in’ offering to help travellers better budget their holiday costs.
Industry research suggests there is a huge demand for all-inclusive holidays, which now account for one in three package holidays booked, representing 50% growth between 2008 and 2011.
It is true that at the top end, most ultra luxury lines have taken the all-inclusive route, the latest being Crystal Cruises.
However, in the mainstream and premium sectors, this is not the case.
I’m not suggesting that this means cruises are not good value because they absolutely are when you consider accommodation, most meals, entertainment, sports activities and childrens’ clubs are all part of the fare.
What is not covered in the cruise price is the cost of alcoholic drinks on board. Generally, these need to be paid for at the end of the cruise, although many companies like Celebrity Cruises promote reduced price drinks packages which can be bought in advance.
Some lines such as Thomson Cruises run promotions at certain times of the year to include drinks as part of the price.
But it is wrong to think that like an all-inclusive land resort, beer, wine and some spirits are included when you take a cruise.
That now appears to be changing thanks to an initiative being taken by one company as part of efforts by the cruise industry to help encourage early bookings for 2013 departures.
Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, known for its four traditional-style ships, is extending an all-inclusive drinks package to the majority of 2013/14 departures after a trail on four 2013 Canary Islands fly-cruises proved so popular.
There is a catch, of course, in that the offer is limited to the first 100 bookings per sailing by the end of September.
This is just one of a series of marketing ideas being employed by cruise lines to kick-start early sales of cruises for next year.
P&O Cruises and Cunard Line have pledged to protect passengers against any future reduction in cruise prices with a price promise – interestingly, Fred Olsen has copied this idea – while Holland America Line got in on the act by reducing early booking fares for 2013 cruises and cut the deposit required to 15%.
The P&O Cruises/Cunard proposition leads what the sister lines say is a new long-term approach to pricing designed to give added peace of mind to holidaymakers, especially to those booking early to secure the cruise of their choice.
It means that passengers can secure their booking knowing that if the so-called Vantage Fare for their cruise were to be reduced, they would automatically receive a complimentary benefit such as on board spending money or an upgrade, to the value of any reduction in price.
Vantage Fare passengers will also be able to select the cabin of their choice, and will have the flexibility to alter their cruise up to 90 days before departure.
A low deposit offer of 10%, down from the usual rate of 15%, also applies to Vantage Fare bookings made by August 31.
P&O Cruises managing director Carol Marlow says: “Travel companies have been discounting for decades, but holidaymakers understandably get frustrated when they find out they’ve paid significantly more than someone else for exactly the same package.
“In the current economic climate, everyone wants value for money and so we are introducing a new approach to pricing for our cruise holidays to create greater trust and reassurance.
“Our Vantage fares will be protected by our price promise which means that passengers can secure their booking, knowing that if the Vantage fare for their booked holiday were to be reduced they would automatically receive a complimentary benefit such as on board spending money or an upgrade, to the value of any reduction in price.
“On the other hand, if fares rise after the booking has been made, which they may well do, then our passengers can rest assured that they have received the best value by booking early.”
Cunard managing director and president Peter Shanks adds: “We are making a significant change to our approach to selling cruises – doing so on the back of what our customers are telling us – and fit for purpose in an economy where customers want peace of mind and outstanding value for money.
“It’s a bold move and one – according to our research – that will be warmly welcomed both by regular cruisers and the many people looking to cruise for the first time.”
All of this activity comes ahead of the fifth annual National Cruise Week which takes place on September 15-23 under the theme of ‘Greatest Journeys’.
The campaign aims to highlight great cruise itineraries focusing on worldwide destinations and the host of experiences available onboard.
There will be a particular focus on attracting people who have never cruised before.
A range of ‘greatest value offers’ will be made available during National Cruise Week when individual cruise lines will be issuing special offers and value-added incentives.
Bill Gibbons, director of industry body the Passenger Shipping association, says: “This is now the fifth National Cruise Week and it has gained a momentum all of its own.
“We cannot shy away from the fact that the industry has faced a challenging start to the year; however cruising is still continuing to grow in popularity. This is because a cruise holiday offers exceptional value with a huge range of accommodation and destinations from the top-end exclusive, intimate cruise to the family fun holiday, all including meals and entertainment.
“It is key to the continuing growth of the market that we focus on attracting new people to the cruise concept and National Cruise Week is promoting the amazing and diverse range of experiences and incredible value that cruising offers.”
I’ll raise my glass to that and, if I’m lucky, the cruise line will be picking up my bar tab.
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