With record-breaking brutal weather pounding the East Coast this winter and the second month of Wave Season 2015 coming to a close, cruise bookings show no signs of slowing down.
Travel agents across the country have seen a welcome upward trend in cruise bookings, due to clients eager to escape the winter weather and take advantage of extra booking incentives from the cruise lines.
“Wave Season business has been steady, because there are some amazing values in the marketplace that are drawing in clients,” said Curtis Kowalski, an American Express Travel consultant in Boston.
“Offers [from the cruise lines] are very appealing to first-time cruisers, and they help get many previous guests to come back.”
Bookings are even up from a strong sales season last year, according to John Layton, a CruiseOne agent in Orlando, Fla.
“Sales are up significantly this year,” Layton said. “There should be some nice commission checks coming in over the next few months.”
Caribbean remains strong
Bookings are just as popular in the Caribbean as they are in Alaska, according to Layton.
Mary Ann Strasheim, ACC, owner of Custom Cruises & Travel in Omaha, Neb., an Ensemble agency, has also experienced strong bookings across a diverse set of itineraries, especially in the luxury segment.
“We are selling luxury both far out and last minute,” Strasheim said. “We are not seeing any slowdown in the Caribbean.”
Growth in Mediterranean, Alaska cruises
Beth Edwards, a Cruise Planners agent in Tampa, Fla., has noticed a big jump in bookings to destinations like the Mediterranean and Alaska when compared to the Caribbean.
Edwards said her Wave Season bookings in 2014 consisted entirely of Caribbean cruises, but this year 50% of her bookings have been in Alaska, with the Caribbean coming in second with 20% of bookings.
That’s just fine with her.
“My sales for Wave Season this year are considerably higher than 2014, an increase of about 50%,” Edwards said. “The commission rate has been consistent, with cruise sales paying slightly more than land sales.”
None of the agents, however, have seen an increase in their bookings with Carnival, despite that line’s effort to make its presence known with a recent TV advertising push.
Bullish on 2015
Given the successful Wave Season, agents are bullish for their prospects through the rest of the year.
Edwards expects another spike in bookings in May. She also has already had multiple queries for bookings in 2016, something that Layton and Strasheim have both experienced as well.
“We have had huge requests for 2016,” Strasheim said. “The luxury market is finding that if they want a certain voyage or category, they need to book early and they are doing it.”
Discounting: not a factor
Strasheim has also had a particularly good year so far.
“This year far surpassed last year [so far],” she said. “We’ve had all good commissions and we are almost overwhelmed and have hired new help.”
While some believe that bookings may have increased due to irresistible price discounts, agents said that’s not the case.
“Discounting is not generally affecting the buying patterns,” Kowalski said.
Strasheim thinks discounts may have gotten a few people in the door, but didn’t cite them as the chief reason for increased bookings. Layton said his agency doesn’t even offer discounts.
“We do not discount,” said Layton. “Our clients know they are getting a great value with our product knowledge, expert advice and our attention to detail.”
Which lines do the most for agents?
Agents said most North American cruise lines are doing an effective job of marketing their cruises to potential passengers.
Edwards of Cruise Planners highlighted Norwegian Cruise Line, while Strasheim mentioned luxury brands like Viking Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises as having a particularly effective presence.
Layton and Kowalski both noted that this is such a competitive time that all the major lines are doing what they can to put forth their best effort.