This new year kicked off with some rough waters for the cruise industry. First the CDC announced that people should avoid cruise travel regardless of vaccination status; then two major cruise lines canceled multiple sailings, while another luxury line suspended its operations. And yet, the cruise sector has always been remarkably resilient, partly because so many repeat cruisers remain committed to this type of travel experience.
Now that we’re smack dab in the middle of Wave Season 2022, Travel Market Report checked in with several travel advisors to see how they’re faring, and just how big their booking waves have been.
Mixed bag of bookings
Some advisors have been busier than ever, while others have felt the impact of less-than-robust cruise bookings. One common thread is an optimistic or cautiously optimistic outlook for 2022 and 2023.
“I was sitting onboard, cruising around South America when the mini-meltdown hit late December and early January,” said Jimmy ‘Chip’ Barker, Platinum Agent, at Oceans & Lands: Custom Travel Planners. “I wondered if things would go as haywire as they did previously and if a few cancellations would continue to spiral into more and more. Fortunately, I only had one client affected by a cruise line canceling their sailing and we immediately rebooked them on another … People didn’t seem to be as spooked by this CDC warning as they were previously.” Barker added that his agency is “full steam ahead as far as the cruise sector is concerned.”
Similarly, Denise L. Wiggins, global executive advisor/CEO, at Denise Wiggins Travel & Health Services, reported: “Cruise travelers are hard core … they are still exploring, booking, and preparing for all the necessary protocols. They recognize the value of travel protection; understand clearly the depths cruise lines are taking to be safe at sea; and are embracing less-capacity sizes as almost private-style sailings.”
Laurel S. Brunvoll, CTA, MCC, owner/president at Unforgettable Trips, said: My outlook for the cruise sector in 2022 is certainly more positive than it looked in 2021. Cruising is back, and many sailings are operating. The demand is definitely there, but many travelers need a little more confidence in things not getting canceled or changing dramatically from what they've reserved … On the other hand, there is a hardy group of travelers who are taking advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel with less people onboard, which translates to an even higher level of personal attention and service. Some are even taking extra cruises to make up for lost time!”
With a little more caution in her voice but still optimistic, Georgiann Jaworskyj, CTC, ACC, at Custom Travel Services, Inc., said: “Our wave season is certainly down from previous years. However, what I have noticed is that we have fewer cruise cancellations as compared to previous months during the pandemic. Our clients are ready to cruise and they are cautiously optimistic that we are turning a corner with regard to COVID.”
Orben R. Torres, travel advisor, at Cruise Planners, relayed: “We have seen quite a bit of hesitation from clients that were within weeks of their cruise sail date. But we have had some success in staying in contact with clients and noting that COVID-related news tends to shift rather quickly. So we encourage them to remain calm and open-minded, while reminding them that we are always going to protect their health considerations.”
Cruise lines have built confidence
One thing that advisors agree on is that the cruise lines have navigated the changes caused by COVID with grace and admiration.
For instance, Jaworskyj said: “The cruise lines have done an outstanding job of creating a bubble onboard their ships and their protocols exceed our clients’ expectations! They are not afraid to take a step back to reassess protocols and make future adjustments. This instills confidence in the travel agency community as well as our clients! Bravo to our cruise industry for their tireless efforts!”
Barker concurs: “There’s always a risk associated when we travel. There’s also always a risk when we step out of the front door to go grocery shopping. But sitting on a cruise ship, I couldn’t help but think I was in a safer, more controlled environment on that ship than I would be running to the market. The protocols and training given to the ship’s staff as well as all the new precautions designed to protect us and make us safer while traveling are impressive. The cruise industry has risen to the occasion, and we’ll all benefit from that for years.”
Selling strategies that work now
What strategies are you successfully using to sell cruises now? The advisors we spoke to offered some ideas.
Barker suggested two tactics: “First, by cruising myself and sharing successful client stories about their trips on my social media pages. Secondly, promoting groups has been a good way to sell cruises. As the old saying goes, there’s comfort in numbers. So when we present a travel opportunity where they’ll be with other people they know or a trip I’m escorting, they feel a sense of camaraderie.”
To boost bookings, Torres makes sure to “advise clients that the extended cruise-with-confidence type programs are going to expire sooner or later. It's a good time to plan to cruise with the thought that rebooking options have never been better.”
Wiggins said she is “openly and actively talking about cruising. It is not something to shy from and full transparency is always good business. There is nothing to hide, and cruise lines are keeping their lines of communication open by sharing their latest updates, policies and protocols often.”
One final note from Wiggins: “Granted, in the new era of travel, industry news changes by the minute … Always seek the most accurate information; get everything in writing, and keep clients in the loop at all times.”
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