A lack of investment in technology by cruise agents could be losing them vital revenue, according to Click With Technology managing director Dan Caplin.
Caplin told delegates at the Cruise Forum at The Travel Convention that a search for cruise apps on iTunes brought up only 10.
He showed delegates virtual itinerary technology using Google maps developed by Australian firm Clean Cruising as an example of what can be achieved.
Caplin said with suppliers and non-cruise agents investing in technology, cruise specialists needed to keep up with the pace of change.
“Many agents seem reluctant to invest in new technology and they may fall behind. Maybe this should be driven by the consumer, but times are certainly changing quite rapidly.
“It’s important to embrace the technological age, not just to attract a younger demographic, but to reach out to the fast-growing market of baby boomers.”
Delegates were told that baby boomers were actually the fastest growing group using Facebook.
Agents in a panel debate told how they had starting to use Facebook and social media.
Tom Britton, managing director of Marble City Travel, said: “We have just jumped on Facebook and invested in e-zines and added a blog to our website, which we are finding is a good way to engage with our customers.
“Our growth was quite incredible this year and it has given us more money to invest. We are now getting a professional in to design our Facebook page.”
Jason Peters, director of Creative Cruising, said the company had just started using social media but he was concerned about giving customers the freedom to post up negative comments.
“The way cruise lines handle complaints is not always agreeable to the complainants and they go on the sites and put the whole episode live for people to read. It’s not often very representative of the actual event that took place.”
However, Caplin said that this sort of social interaction should be seen as an opportunity and anyone with a good product should not worry about a few negative comments but should respond.
Carnival UK sales director Giles Hawke said P&O Cruises had 30,000 active posters and together with Cunard, the cruise lines have 60,000 fans on Facebook and 30,000 Twitter followers.
“We know 80% of our consumers research their cruise online at some point in the pre-purchase phase.
“We want to make sure we are visible and available to them in places they want to engage with us. What we have to do is make sure 99.9% of the time we deliver a fantastic experience.”
Even Fred Olsen Cruise Line, which has an older client profile, has started to embrace modern forms of online marketing.
Nigel Lingard, the Fred Olsen marketing director, said in the last year the proportion of customers who researched their cruise online had jumped from 40% to 60%.
And he said the only increase in staff budgeting next year is for someone to manage the line’s digital output and to increase activity online.
“There has been this tremendous ramping up of online and we are having to play catch-up with that.”