Online Cruise Buyers Want Offline Help

    February 14, 2008

Online travel companies say that potential travelers looking to book a cruise are more comfortable talking to human sales people than just purchasing costly trips on the Internet.

The chief executives of Expedia Inc. and said even with the convenience of online travel bookings and the large amount of useful reviews, customers wanting to go on a cruise still want to talk to a real travel agent to plan their trips.

Numbers from Phocuswright, a travel research firm, says total U.S. cruise revenue from ticket sales for 2007 was $13.4 billion, but only around 7 percent ($944 million) came from online bookings. Phocuswright estimates growth in online cruise bookings will grow to $1.3 billion in 2009, but that will comprise just 8 percent of the cruise booking market.

Seventy percent of total online cruise bookings were made via online travel agencies in 2007, instead of cruise company Web sites. "Although OTAs (online travel agencies) represent the lion’s share of online cruise bookings, the cruise lines themselves are playing a good game of catch up," said Douglas Quinby, senior director of research at Phocuswright, according to Reuters. "We expect the split to be 60/40 by 2009."

Priceline CEO Jeff Boyd

Priceline CEO Jeff Boyd said that customers want to know the details of a cruise vacation. "What kind of restaurants does this cruise ship have? Do I have to wear a necktie when I go to dinner? It’s stuff like that that people really want to know," he said.

"Consumers tend to be more reluctant to basically shop online and plop down 1,500 bucks without talking to a human and getting an assurance that yes, this is a nice ship."

Both Priceline and Expedia list customer service phone numbers for people who need more information on cruise bookings.