Every October, the global trade association for cruise lines launches a marketing campaign to help convince consumers to book cruises through a travel agent. This year, it’s known as National Plan a Cruise Month.

The timing of the campaign acts as a lead in to what’s known as Wave Season, when the cruise lines receive most of their bookings from travel agents for the next year and beyond.

Wave Season is the first few months of each year, an attempt to capitalize when consumers who are stuck in the cold start thinking about warm weather vacations. Cruise lines offer discounted fares, free excursions, complimentary value adds, and other amenities to cruisers, while asking them to book with a travel agent.

The big campaign for 2015?

Free cruises for those who submit a photo to CLIA’s #cruisesmile website and share then it on Twitter or Facebook, along with countless value-adds from individual lines.

 

Cruising is a $100 billion global industry with the financial heft to execute massive global projects. But its communal marketing efforts are unimaginative.

Individual lines, at the same time, are hawking their cruises with individualized discounts and specials.

“By putting the spotlight on cruising for the entire month of October, we’re able to spread the word about the value and benefits of a cruise vacation, particularly a Holland America Line cruise,” said Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line, which is offering four value-add incentives this month. “The different promotions we’re featuring are sure to entice more travelers to book this month, and the #CruiseSmile sweepstakes is an added incentive to learn more about cruising and possibly win a Holland America Line cruise.”

Each year for the last several years, CLIA has changed its branding surrounding its October campaign. The campaign has evolved from National Cruise Vacation Week to National Cruise Vacation Month, and now National Plan a Cruise Month.

Cruise lines still want consumers to book through a travel agent, for now.

“Travel agents that specialize in cruise vacations can help both first-time and veteran cruise travelers find the best cruise options for their travel style as well as help them take advantage of the best deals and promotions available,” said Cindy D’Aoust, acting CEO of CLIA. “In addition to providing travelers with a nearly hands-free, stress-free vacation planning experience, there is no cost to a traveler who uses a travel agent.”

Individually, the major global cruise companies spend hundreds of millions each year on advertising campaigns and marketing materials. And for all the talk of bonhomie between CLIA member cruise lines, the big three companies are competing against each other for cruisers worldwide.

Carnival Corp. continued to sell the narrative of its turnaround last year, with a barrage of TV advertising tied into the Super Bowl.

Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line have each moved on to new marketing agencies this year.

Norwegian dumped The Martin Agency, which it had used since 2011, and hired Omnicom Group companies for its creative lead and media planning and buying.Royal Caribbean chose Mullen Lowe as its lead agency, replacing JWT. Carnival Corp. named SapientNitro its lead digital agency in September.

“In today’s digital age, the vacation experience often begins online,” said Christine Esteve, vice president of e-commerce at Carnival Cruise Line. “We selected SapientNitro because of their extensive expertise helping companies in the travel and hospitality sector create strong digital experiences for their businesses. We look forward to working with SapientNitro to create a fun and engaging experience that begins before our guests even set sail.”