Online sales of cruises have always been sluggish because of the complexity of the cruise product.
Only one out of every six cruises are booked through websites, even in today's do-it-yourself, all-digital era.
Yet cruise lines have been remarkably successful in getting consumers to use their branded websites to place bookings, stealing away market share from their rivals, the major online travel agencies (OTAs).
Direct channels pulled away from OTAs for in 2012, netting a majority share of online bookings for the first time—at $962 million in unmanaged bookings.
Suppliers will claim 59% of web sales in 2014, predicts PhoCusWright's US Online Travel Overview, 12th Ed
.Secret weapon: Ancillaries
One of the successful ways of getting customers in the door has been selling on-shore excursions.
One major supplier, which chooses to remain anonymous, says a majority of the purchases of shore excursions now take place on its branded site, trumping sales through all other channels.
After customers book a cruise, they receive marketing promotions up-selling them on shore excursions.
These up-sales drive visitors to the branded sites. This traffic helps to familiarize travelers with the cruise lines' own digital platforms.
When it comes time to book their next cruise, many of these travelers feel more comfortable booking direct.
Cruise lines need to simplify their digital booking processes to keep accelerating at their current pace.
Today it takes about 10 steps to book a cruise on the top four largest branded cruise sites, a number of steps that needs to drop in half for a truly optimal user experience.
NB : Cruise ship image courtesy of Jacrews7/Flickr/Creative Commons.