Despite the recent Costa Concordia tragedy, clients are still booking cruises this season. // © 2012 ThinkStock
For once, agents seem more positive than the cruise executives as the Wave period continues. Although cruise lines, even outside the Carnival brands, note an impact in the short term from the Costa Concordia accident, travel agents report no cancellations and a very robust Wave season.
Christine Duffy, CLIA president and CEO, said that the travel agent community has not seen any significant reduction in bookings. In fact, CruiseOne and sister company Cruises Inc. reported that their Wave season cruise sales for Jan. 14-16, the three days following the accident, were up nearly 6 percent over 2011.
The Concordia Effect
Carnival Corporation took a reservations drop in the mid-teen percentages during the 12 days following the accident, which was expected. Analysts looked at Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines’ quarterly earnings call at the beginning of February to see how the impact of the Concordia tragedy extended to other parts of the industry.
Royal management said that 2012 bookings were about five percent above last year’s numbers before the Concordia accident, and new reservations afterward dropped by 20 percent, then rose at the end of January, with the strongest decline in Europe. North American bookings were down in the high single digits at that point and are improving daily. And, according to the company, Royal’s overall load factors and pricing are still higher than last year’s statistics. Spring and summer bookings were most affected, with longer term reservations remaining strong.
Travel Agents Report Strong Bookings
Despite the Concordia tragedy, clients are still reaching out to their travel agents to book their cruise vacations this season.
“We are busier than ever and have not had one cancellation in light of Concordia,” said Houston-based Cruise Center co-owner Tom Baker. “Clients are coming out of the woodwork to book. People realize this was human error and that cruising is quite safe compared to all other forms of travel … I haven’t been this busy in years.”
Baker said that one change is that clients will be treating the lifeboat drills much more seriously, whereas they previously looked at this safety procedure as a total nuisance. Other agents also reported a much more serious attitude toward safety drills and regulations among consumers.
Bonnie Habel, president of Fuller Travel in San Antonio, Texas, also reported stronger bookings in general, with no impact concerning safety except for a few questions.
“I have not had any single cancellation attributed to this incident. Mostly people are aware that a rogue captain caused the Concordia disaster and still feel safe and are booking cruises,” Habel said.
Booking Trends Shift
Cruise Holidays’ 2012 Cruise Trends survey, released in January, found that while Caribbean cruises are the top consumer choice, early bookings to Europe continue to outpace those to Alaska for the second year in a row. As Fambrini pointed out, cruises to the Baltic and Scandinavia have increased. Habel also sees Northern Europe holding strong appeal this summer, and she is finding South America and Australia are popular for seagoing cruisers.
UBS Cruise Tracker shows stronger cruise pricing in 2012, with ticket prices most positive for Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line and Royal. Cruise prices in the Caribbean and Alaska have increased moderately since last month; Mediterranean pricing remains the same.
A significant change in buying patterns appears to be expanding from luxury lines to cruising in general: the early February the Travel Guard Update indicated that, with cruise lines now offering attractive deals year-round, only 12 percent of travel agents polled felt that Wave season is still the strongest time of the year for cruise bookings; 43 percent of those polled reported that the majority of their clients are no longer waiting until Wave season to book a cruise.