Cruise agents hope for sales upturn as restrictions ease

Cruise sales are recovering more slowly than land-based holidays but are poised to rebound as restrictions ease, say agents.

The trade blamed sluggish sales on advice against cruising issued in December by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while cancellations by cruise lines have also hit bookings.

Despite the US CDC this month saying its advice against cruising will not be extended, Cruise365 managing director Anthony Blackmore estimated sales were “two to three weeks behind” the general market, with 2022 European sailings the most popular.

“Cruising was vilified in the US and that had a big negative impact on sales between Christmas and the first few days of January,” he said last week.

“We’ve had stronger trading since last Thursday. Sales will come back like a steam train if the government drops return tests in the UK.”

Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan said short-haul land sales were driving bookings, with the group reporting this Monday as its best trading day since the pandemic.

Cruise usually accounts for a third of the agency’s sales but was currently “nowhere near that”. Morgan said: “Cruise has been slower out of the blocks since Christmas but momentum will grow over the next month.”

Cancellations have proved a source of frustration. Spear Travels chairman Peter Cookson said: “Cruise is around 25% of our business, but they’re being cancelled left, right and centre at present and really late, just before departure.” But he forecast a bright outlook longer-term, adding: “Cruisers are a hardy bunch. The market will come back for sure.”

Idle Travel director Tony Mann said cruise clients remained cautious. “We are mega-busy, but unfortunately that cannot be said of the cruise market,” he said. “It will just be a little later. February could be the new January for cruise.”

Cruise Nation managing director Phil Evans agreed: “I think the market will come back in February. We are already seeing that sales are picking up and we are having some positive days at the moment but it’s still not up to where we want it to be.”

Advantage Travel Partnership said cruise sales were growing, especially for the end of 2022 and for 2023. Leisure director Kelly Cookes admitted cruise hadn’t enjoyed “the same uplift as general sales” due to negative publicity, but said: “As news surrounding the pandemic improves and restrictions ease, we expect strong cruise sales.”

The Travel Network Group said sales were improving, with the Mediterranean and Greek islands the most‑booked destinations, followed by the Caribbean, Australia, the Baltics and transatlantic cruises, and clients trading up on both river and ocean cruises to book more expensive trips.

A spokeswoman said: “Members are anticipating that cruise sales will continue to grow as customers get more confident. Hopefully we will see a delayed peaks period across all sectors, not just cruise.”

Barrhead Travel said that while the Omicron variant of Covid had “stunted” cruise sales growth, confidence for cruise was “back on the rise”. Cruise bookings were 74% up  last week for the agency.

President Jacqueline Dobson said: “Land holidays make up the majority of our last-minute getaways for departures before the end of March but there is a healthy demand for cruising this summer and next winter.

“We’re hoping to see growth for the Easter school holiday period.”

Dobson added that Barrhead agents were spending “noticeably more time” with clients on bookings to go through all the guidance and protocols.

“In general, people are taking longer to make decisions about their travel plans, particularly for higher spend holidays and cruising,” she said.

More:Cruise specialists criticise ‘unfair’ US CDC advice

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