The traditional annual wave of cruise bookings has finally begun to
crest with a surge in business.
Cruise and travel industry officials said last week that
bookings are up anywhere from 17 percent to 100 percent, compared
to the same time last year. “We’ve watched our numbers go back to
Wave-Season booking trends, which makes me very, very, very happy,”
said Brad Anderson, co-president of Anderson Travel &
Cruises/American Express in San Diego.
Traditionally, the cruise industry’s Wave Season takes place in
the first quarter every year, gradually extending from a week to a
month to three months. But this year’s Wave Season was lackluster
at best, as consumers postponed travel amid rising fears of war in
Iraq and the economic uncertainty. Now, however, cruise bookings
have begun to grow as the war in Iraq no longer dominates the news
and the economy looks less stagnant.
Cruise bookings increased by 17 percent for three straight
weeks, the AAA National Travel Barometer reported on May 8.
“Americans clearly have resumed planning their vacations as
improved consumer confidence combines with discounts being offered
by much of the travel industry,” said Sandra Hughes, AAA Travel’s
Tour and hotel bookings also rose the week of April 28, by 9
percent and 1 percent, respectively.
Norwegian Cruise Line officials said this month that bookings
and pricing in the past three weeks have strengthened and are ahead
of last year.
Luxury line Silversea Cruises is also experiencing a
late-breaking wave. “This uptake we’ve seen since the week before
Easter is a significant increase and would compare to volumes we’ve
seen in past Wave periods in January,” said Jim McHugh, Silversea’s
vice president of sales.
McHugh said Silversea noticed a sudden increase in business,
once the Iraq situation cooled.
“As the war activity started to decrease, we almost immediately
saw an increase in bookings,” McHugh said. “The week right before
Easter is when we saw booking volumes increase exponentially.
“In the following two-week period ending May 4, we were seeing
another 100 percent increase in booking activity and another 40
percent increase in phone volume.”
The boom in actual bookings has impressed McHugh.
“I think there was a lot of shopping going on in January and
February,” he said. “Now people are making decisions for July and
August trips. Historically, we would’ve seen a lot of that activity
in January or February.”
For Anderson, at Anderson Travel & Cruises/ American
Express, the booking pace could make it “the best Wave season we’ve
ever had,” he said.
“Or maybe it’s just after being in a drought, these little drops
of rain seem like a downpour,” he joked. “It all started about a
month ago, and I hope it keeps going.”
Anderson said he is hiring travel agents and considering whether
to get a new phone system because calls were missed in the recent
Both McHugh and Anderson said that while attractive cruise
discounts are still out there, cheap prices aren’t the main lure
for consumers these days.
“Cruise pricing seems to be firming and increasing,” Anderson
said. “There are still good values out there, but we’re not selling
at fire-sale prices anymore.” McHugh said Silversea’s Silver
Savings program offers 40 percent to 60 percent discounts on
certain cruises, but that hasn’t been the driving force of the new
“The buying decisions are not surrounding our most heavily
promoted savings dates,” he said.
At Crystal Cruises, fares have been lowered on inaugural season
cruises of its new Crystal Serenity, scheduled to be christened
July 3. “We have lowered fares in some categories, so the revenue
has dropped, but the number of bookings has picked up,” said Adam
Leavitt, Crystal’s senior vice president of marketing.
“It’s coming back, slow but steady,” he said. “Everyone’s kind
of cautiously optimistic.”
Jeff Dash, president of Viking River Cruises, said the European
river business picked up noticeably after the statue of Saddam
Hussein was knocked over in Baghdad.
“Since no one declared the war over, we call it the
post-Saddam-statue-falling period,” Dash said. “In the
post-Saddam-statue period, we’ve seen a noticeable increase in
business, but it’s still fairly close in and fairly
He said recent weeks have been “on pace to be on the level of
the end of January.”
Even business to France has picked up, although that was spurred
in part by fares as low as $599 for a weeklong cruise. Still, he
thinks a turnaround is in the works. “Call me in a month,” Dash
said. “I bet I’ll be beaming.”