One of the biggest shifts in consumer behaviour seen over the course of 20 months is the migration to digital and direct booking channels, spanning all sectors of travel including the cruise industry. In light of that, experts from Dream Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and GlobalTix issued a clarion call for travel agents to get onboard digital distribution and marketing, in hopes that cruise tourism can move forward into the future.
Speaking to a panel of experts at CruiseWorld Asia 2021, Yeoh Siew Hoon, founder of Web in Travel (WiT) highlighted findings from a recent Google report that 40 million people have joined digital consumerism on top of the 400 million pre-existing consumers.
As digitalisation revolutionises consumer behaviour, travel agents need to act fast to keep up with the expectations of digital consumers, especially as Yeoh pointed out that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) “is still forecasting that 2.3 billion people will travel this year, and next year there will be 3.4 billion people travelling” despite the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Quick to hop onboard the digital demand is Genting Cruise Lines which recently announced a global integration of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) with Klook, a move that Chan Chee Cheong, CEO of GlobalTix, advocates.
Chan believes that APIs can offer three major benefits for a travel agent when it comes to cruise bookings: boost sales as it offers instant confirmation which consumers crave; eliminate the tedious back-and-forth when it comes to traditional bookings with emails; and better engagement from agent-to-consumer as it provides a direct marketing channel.
"Right now is a great opportunity to build capabilities around end-to-end customer experiences," Kenneth Yeo, regional director sales for Asia Pacific at Royal Caribbean International says.
However, integrating an API is not a walk in the park. Michael Goh, president of Dream Cruises and head of international sales of Genting Cruise Lines addressed issues of onboarding such a system, citing the high costs involved. This rings true for the majority of the audience who shared in a poll that while they are considering API integration, the finances required for it are preventing them from pulling the trigger.
Additionally, Goh pointed out that it requires a level of digital savviness and deeper understanding on what digital consumers want. “The team has to have the knowledge on how to operate it. They also have to understand digital consumer behaviour. It is about the execution and what plans they have in store for the API,” Goh said.
In line with Goh’s statement, Chan says the best way forward in adopting an API is that “you need to have a plan on how you want to grow your business and engage with your customers.” Chan advised travel agents on taking “baby steps” when it comes to adopting new technology and getting to know the new generation of consumers first by putting their offers on e-commerce platforms like Lazada or Shopee.
“There are also other means to take those baby steps, with social media being one of the alternatives,” Kenneth Yeo, regional director sales for Asia Pacific at Royal Caribbean International said.
Chan, Goh and Yeo further empathised with travel agents on how the financial and logistical strains involved with adopting new technologies is a huge deterrence. However, they deem it crucial to chart the path towards the future of cruise tourism.
In this post-Covid era where travel specialists of all sectors look to rebuild or break into the market, collaborative efforts in sharing insights and supporting each other as tourism moves into unchartered waters will help expedite the process for the Southeast Asia travel industry as a whole to emerge stronger and better.
“If travel agents understand what they want from new technologies, and they’re ever-ready to go ahead with that, we’re all behind them to support them and to work alongside them in this journey,” Goh shared.