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Travel advisors have finally had some good news in recent weeks, according to a new report from TravelAge West, part of its Need to Know research series. Nearly 400 advisors responded to the latest survey, with 76% saying they have clients traveling this summer, and 55% indicating that they have had a greater-than-expected increase in summer travel inquiries in recent weeks.
“We have seen a huge demand for travel this summer in both the all-inclusive and cruise markets,” said Danny Genung, CEO of Harr Travel in Redlands, Calif. “It is tough to find space for many products now. We have our first group back traveling on [Royal Caribbean International’s] Adventure of the Seas out of Nassau, Bahamas, this June, and the response has been amazing.”
While the increase is positive, most respondents report that client interest is still down from pre-pandemic levels — more than half (55%) say business is down significantly, and another 21% indicate that it is down slightly.
The recent news about cruise lines planning to sail again has not yet had a major impact on advisors’ business, with 58% of agents saying they have not seen an increase in cruise bookings or inquiries. Having cruises start outside the U.S. does not help matters, according to respondents — only 10% say it is not a problem at all, and 46% say their clients probably would not sail if they had to fly to another country to board a cruise.
Most advisors support the idea of cruises that are limited to vaccinated passengers only. Nearly half (48%) are in favor of it, and another 35% like the idea as a temporary, short-term measure. In addition, 73% say their clients would be more likely to cruise if all the passengers onboard are vaccinated.
“Cruise lines’ top priority is to keep their crew and passengers safe, and right now it looks like having passengers onboard who are vaccinated is going to be the best way for them to restart,” Genung said. “I have cruises booked for myself that require 100% vaccination, and also those where it is not required for kids. We do have some customers who are not traveling because of this situation, but so many more who believe that this will be the safest mode of travel this year.”
Cruise lines’ top priority is to keep their crew and passengers safe, and right now it looks like having passengers onboard who are vaccinated is going to be the best way for them to restart.
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of all respondents believe that it is very important for their clients to see that cruise lines can resume sailing without an increase in COVID-19 cases. But they are much more evenly split on the biggest factors that affect clients’ decision to take a cruise. Health and safety protocols came in first (with 30%); followed by a tie between price and itinerary (27%); and finally, 16% say flexibility and cancellation policies are most important.
One of the most emotionally charged topics inside the travel industry is how the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has treated the cruise industry when it comes to pandemic protocols. Perhaps not surprisingly, the majority of advisors (60%) disapprove of the way the CDC has handled cruising, with 36% approving.
“I completely disapprove of the way the CDC has handled everything,” Genung said. “My hope is that they will follow the science and stop making this political. Saying that things are the same now as they were in October is an embarrassment to the organization.”
“Need to Know” is a 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 395 advisors across the U.S. Click here to see more Need to Know stories.