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More companies in the travel industry are relaxing cancellation
policies as a way to keep people traveling in a climate of economic
and geopolitical uncertainty and cruise lines are leading the
While Six Continents’ InterContinental Hotels and Virgin
Atlantic airlines have recently announced cancellation policy
changes, other major hotel and airline companies have yet not eased
It’s a different story with cruise liners. Seven cruise
companies have now relaxed their cancellation policies by offering
full refunds on canceled trips or by giving customers the option of
buying cancellation protection.
SeaDream Yacht Club and Uniworld were the first cruise lines to
waive cancellation fees as a means of keeping people on board
ships. Costa Cruises, Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, and Royal
Olympia have since revised their policies to allow for refunds on
vacations canceled up to a day before departure.
Oceania Cruises and Crystal Cruises are both offering
General uneasiness about a potential war with Iraq is driving
changes in the European market. Radisson, Oceania, Costa and Royal
Olympia have used the policy changes to drive bookings on their
European cruises. Europe is a high concern for cruise lines, should
the U.S. lead a war against Iraq.
“We don’t want people to feel that they would be penalized,”
said Darren Oster, a spokesman for Costa Cruise Lines. “We want
people to continue to go about life as usual.”
When a cruise is canceled, most companies generally offer
partial refunds for cancellations made 90 days before departure.
The refund amount gets proportionately lesser, as you get closer to
the departure date; and many cruise liners will not refund anything
if the trip is canceled within a month of departure.
The prospect of losing a sizable chunk of their vacation money
has driven customers and travel agents alike to pressure the cruise
lines on easing their policies.
“We’ve received a lot of phone calls and e-mails from people who
are concerned about penalties,” said Tim Rubacky, a spokesman for
Oceania Cruises. “Part of this has to do with what we’ve been
hearing from our guests. Peace of mind is a good thing to offer
The relaxation of cancellation policies was rare before 9/11. At
that time, many hotels eased their policies for people who were
inconvenienced or hesitant to travel. Now the changes to
cancellation policies are a tool that travel suppliers have adopted
as a way of selling their products during troubled times.
“Before 9/11, no one had to do this before,” said Bob Sharak,
executive director of the Cruise Line International Association.
“It’s not very common whatsoever. But a lot of cruise lines are
putting a step forward to make the decision process easier for
people. It’s a marketing tool now.”
Outside of the cruise industry, InterContinental Hotels (see
related story, page 1) has waived cancellation fees for business
meetings, and Virgin Atlantic is allowing travelers to cancel
bookings or change flight dates without penalties, through March
The tour operator, Island Destinations, has a policy that
guarantees agent commissions, even when a trip is cancelled; and
the Parker Company, the largest U.S. supplier of vacation rental
properties in Italy, is offering cancellation insurance. Eighty
percent of those booking vacation villas in Italy are taking that