Demand for both ocean and river cruises is strong for the second half of 2021, according to executives who anticipate a rapid recovery once the sector can fully restart.

Speakers on a Future of Travel Week webcast said there was still some caution for the remainder of 2020 and the first quarter of next year, but interest and bookings for the second quarter onwards were tracking well.

Ellen Bettridge, chief executive of Uniworld, said: “We are having a pretty darn good 2021. We are seeing on average about 20% of bookings are the ‘move-over’ (rebookings) and the other 80% are new bookings.

“The third and fourth quarter is absolutely packed, we are way up. We are going to be back next year and it’s going to be back really strong. I am super-optimistic and I think our [agent partners] should be as well.”

Ben Bouldin, vice-president EMEA for Royal Caribbean, said: “We all saw how quickly the industry had to stop but I think equally it could come back just as dramatically. There could be a real ‘hockey stick’ out of this.

“We’ve had a lot of time to think about how we get back and how we do it properly and so while it will take some time, I think you will see the excitement get back into both categories (river and ocean) and the interest level resume.”

Citing ‘showcase moments’ including the addition of new ships to the fleet, he added: “Q2, 3 and 4 look very exciting.”

Lucia Rowe, managing director of A-Rosa, said 2021 was looking strong and 2022 could look “better than ever” as customers explored river cruising for the first time.

She added that 70% of bookings had come from passengers with previous experience of ocean cruising, suggesting they were trying river cruising while waiting for the resumption of the wider sector.

She added: “New to river cruise will be easier for us. People who are not yet going on ocean cruise liners might and will give river cruises a chance which is why new to river cruise will grow at a much faster pace.”

Bouldin admitted that appealing to new cruisers may initially be a challenge, but he insisted the ocean sector should not focus only on established customers.

He added: “We will have to start to think about how we target those people that we were so heavily invested in trying to win over previously, but we go again. You get knocked off the horse but you have to get back on again and we will do exactly the same.”

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