Johanna JainchillWhile it seems the hits keep coming for the cruise industry -- from Canada's cruise-ship ban to the CDC's delay in approving a return
While it seems the hits keep coming for the cruise industry — from Canada’s cruise-ship ban to the CDC’s delay in approving a return-to-service plan — one thing does not seem to be dampened: Demand.
During industry earnings calls and in talks with cruise executives, the message is clear: as soon as they are able (and feel safe doing so) people want to cruise. That is especially evident in the strength of bookings later in 2021 and into 2022, when cruise lines are seeing demand that in some cases outstrips what they had been seeing prior to the pandemic.
Luxury cruise lines have been especially surprised by what they are calling unprecedented demand for their voyages, especially long ones.
In a January interview, Jason Montague, president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, pointed to the booking record set in the fall for the line’s 2023 world cruise, which doubled the bookings of its 2022 World Cruise in the same time period. That was followed by a single-day booking record in October, which accounted for a 40% increase over the previous all-time high that was set in 2018.
“That gives you the backdrop for the demand we’re seeing,” Montague said. “When we launched the 2022 and 2023 seasons, we had the biggest booking day in Regent history. It’s a testament to the demand out there. People are stuck at home and want to get back to cruising.”
Montague gives a lot of the credit to travel advisors.
“Travel partners are key in this right now, they really are the ones out there educating consumers,” he said. “Travel partners can show the value we offer. They have always been a critical aspect of driving cruise demand. You put the right consumer on the right cruise brand, and that person will be sold for life.”
Montague said he’s seen the luxe cruise segment recover quickly before, after the Great Recession. “Regent had a record year in 2010 after the dip in 2009,” he said. “I think we’re well positioned to bounce back again.”
In a separate January interview, Steve Smotrys, vice president of global sales for Seabourn, said it was also seeing “really good demand,” particularly in Europe and for world cruises.
“That’s a really good indicator,” he said. “People are willing to go on long cruises, and they are planning on that.”
Smotrys said that flexible cancellation polices are giving people “peace of mind to book now.”
“I think people are optimistic and that pent-up demand is out there,” he said, pointing to some booking days in January that were better year-over-year than in January 2020, before the pandemic started. “That was great news.”
Smotrys and Montague both said their promotions were motivating people to book, and putting money in advisors’ pockets.
Regent’s Upgrade Your Horizon promotion for Wave season offers a two-category suite upgrade on almost all sailings when booked by Feb. 28, and travel advisors receive $100 gift cards on every new deposited booking made by Feb. 28.
Seabourn is offering a 10% discount off its cruises to those who pay in full now, as part of its Early Bonus Savings.
“One of the main reason we’re doing that is because once the guest pays in full, we pay commission at that time,” Smotrys said. “We know advisors are looking for commission sooner than later. It gives guests a great discount and puts commission in the hands of advisors as soon as possible. These are the things that are very important to the industry and to advisors.”