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Most travel advisors do not expect their cruise bookings to rebound until the second half of next year, according to a new survey of more than 350 agents. The results, part of TravelAge West’s Need to Know research series, indicate that 58% of advisors think their cruise business will get back to normal in the second half of 2021, while another 26% do not expect a rebound until 2022 or beyond.
However, Adam Martindale, owner of Cruise Planners in San Diego, sees a lot of potential for next year.
“My bookings for 2021 have surpassed 2019 — which was my busiest year so far,” Martindale said. “I was able to rebook around 80% of existing 2020 business, and I have many new bookings beginning in April 2021.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly had a devastating effect on the cruise industry, with 92% of respondents saying their cruise business is down from previous years. But most advisors (84%) agree that strict health protocols will be needed in order to get business back on track.
Although 71% think that onboard social distancing might hurt their cruise business, and 76% feel that strict face-covering rules could also hurt business, they are more split on the possible effects of pre-cruise coronavirus testing. A little less than half (46%) feel testing will not hurt business, and 54% think it will have at least some effect.
These results struck a chord with Martindale.
“I have heard from more of my clients about their aversion to wearing face masks than about getting a test or vaccine,” he said. “But I have not had any negative feedback about social distancing.”
Another aspect of cruising that could be affected by the pandemic in the future is a client’s preference for ship size, according to respondents. Forty-three percent of advisors think ship size will be very important to future bookings; 48% think it will be somewhat important; and only 8% think it will not be important at all.
Advisors see the recovery being led by smaller ocean-going ships (72%) and riverboats (70%), followed by expedition ships (37%) and, lastly, mega ocean ships (18%).
“A large percentage of my business is with Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and none of these clients have mentioned that they would prefer to book on smaller ships, such as those from Seabourn or Silversea Cruises instead,” Martindale said. “I expected many of my clients to be interested in American river cruising instead of ocean cruising, but that has not happened.”
One positive note from the survey: If cruising does resume this fall, taking a flight should not be an obstacle for most itineraries. One-third of advisors (33%) think clients are willing to fly anywhere to board a cruise, and 39% feel that clients are ready to at least take a domestic flight. Only about one-quarter (27%) say that clients will not fly at all this fall.
“My bookings are very solid for 2021, as well as 2022,” Martindale said. “I am encouraging my clients to book now to take advantage of the lower rates, booking incentives, cancellation policies and favorable consumer policies before demand increases and the prices increase — which will happen, in my opinion.”
“Need to Know” is a weekly research series from TravelAge West that tracks the responses of advisors as they relate to various travel trends and topics. This survey recorded the responses of 350 advisors across the U.S. Click here to see more Need to Know stories.