Special Report: Carnival UK brands hail strong start to 2024

Josie Klein reports from a round-table discussion with the group’s senior figures

Carnival UK brands have hailed an “exceptionally” strong January, with all lines reporting significant year-on-year increases in sales.

Cunard booked 25% more passengers in January than in any other month in the past decade, according to UK sales director Tom Mahoney, who praised the trade for its “phenomenal” performance.

Similarly, Princess Cruises experienced its “biggest booking month on record” for the UK and Ireland, while P&O Cruises celebrated its “biggest January ever” in terms of sales volume.

Hayley Moore, who took up the position of UK and Europe sales director for Princess Cruises last month, said the line’s decision to launch its wave campaign earlier than usual had contributed to a successful January, adding: “Agents really got behind us early and the results speak for themselves.”

P&O Cruises sales director Ruth Venn partly attributed the line’s strong performance to its media campaign, which she said had “driven huge awareness” of the brand, saying: “Our media investment in January has been our biggest ever and has done a huge amount for us in terms of bringing the brand into public consciousness.

“Travel agents have also performed incredibly strongly, so we are grateful to all our agent partners.”

Carnival Cruise Line began the year “better sold than ever before”, international sales director Luke Smith said, and it saw a 50% year‑on‑year increase in January sales.

Smith added: “So far, it’s been a very, very strong wave, so it’s all about maintaining that momentum.”

Seabourn’s sales are up 30% year on year across both its ocean and expedition programmes and the luxury line has pledged to support agents to continue driving sales through February.

Wendy Lahmich, sales director for the UK and Europe, said: “We are very happy with the year so far but, of course, there is always work to do, so we are working hard with our travel partners to keep this momentum going.”

Regional flight demand

Cruise lines are seeking to add more regional flight options to their fly‑cruise packages to support increased demand from customers.

P&O Cruises’ Venn said agent feedback had shown a trend in clients looking to fly from regional airports, prompting the line to add extra flights from Cardiff and Glasgow for its 2024-25 season to support customers booking Arvia sailings.

Venn said the flights had been “extremely popular”, and the line is looking to add further regional departures to support the demand.

“We added those extra flights based on agent feedback because it’s a trend they are telling us they are seeing, so we will continue to look at that and add more to meet demand,” she said.

“Regionality is an important part of adding value for a customer when agents are selling, and offering regional flights is an extra sale point. It’s all about making it as easy as possible for customers to get to the ships.”

Princess Cruises’ Moore said adding regional flight options was a “very live conversation” for the line, with extra departures likely to be released within the next 12 months.

“We already have flights set up from Dublin to support our Irish guests, but we’re looking at some northern regional flights where we’ve identified pockets of potential Princess customers,” she said.

“We’re really listening to our agents as they’re the experts and they know where their guests will want to travel from, so over the next 12 months we will be looking at supporting those regional customers.”

Carnival Cruise Line’s Luke Smith said flying from regional airports was becoming a more common trend among agents who package up holidays with the line, adding that “gone are the days of just offering London flights”.

He encouraged agents to take the lead from their customers on where they would most like to travel from and to spend extra time sourcing regional options to add value to a sale.

“When agents are packaging up our holidays, we are seeing them offering regional flights more and more, and packages are being much more targeted,” he said. “Agents have got to listen to the customer and tailor the package to them to make it as accessible as possible.”

Future bookings curve

The booking curve is now “further out than it has ever been”, prompting some cruise lines to accelerate the release of their 2026-27 programmes.

Cunard’s Mahoney said the future booking curve was now ahead of 2019 levels, which was the line’s previous record, as demand for sailings in the 2025-26 season “soars”.

He said the line is looking to unveil its 2026-27 collection earlier than planned to meet the demand.

“Our projections through to the end of this year show our future occupancy curves are set to be ahead of 2019, which for us and a lot of brands was the peak of the elongated booking curve,” he said.

“We’re looking to have more product on sale with a longer lead time, which is being driven by this trend we are seeing.”

Similarly, Seabourn and Carnival Cruise Line said they intend to release their 2026-27 programmes sooner than originally envisaged.

Carnival’s Smith added that although sailings through to spring 2026 are already on sale, demand for future cruises is high “and we need product to sell”.

Consumer budgeting

Smith attributed the reason for the extended booking curve to many customers’ need to budget for a holiday, prompting them to book further out to give them time to save up or pay smaller monthly amounts through direct debit.

“Everything is about booking earlier and having more product on sale,” he said. “I think one of the reasons customers are booking further ahead is for budgeting purposes as holidays are expensive and people need to know how much they can afford to put aside.”

He added: “2024 is going to be done very soon and we’ve got to put more product on sale for agents to sell and customers to book.”

P&O Cruises and Holland America Line both reported increased future bookings, although neither said they currently have plans to release their 2026-27 sailings ahead of schedule.

Holland America Line sales and marketing director Karen Farndell said: “We’ve had a record-breaking January in terms of future-year bookings. I think this is a really key trend a lot of brands are seeing, but we’re not making any specific changes to our itinerary release approach right now.”

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