The UK cruise industry is “clinging” to hopes for an initial domestic restart for the sector in May or June, with international cruising permitted during the summer, according to its European chief.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa Ben Bouldin said: “Every cruise company in the UK is hoping that the current roadmap that Boris [Johnson] is talking about provides an avenue for at least domestic cruising to resume in May, June time.
“And then hopefully, we can start to pick up the season that we’d all plan to have, perhaps a few weeks later during the summer. That’s what we’re all clinging to here.”
He said both his own line – and agents – had been forced to become “nimble” over the last year due to the ongoing pause in operations and lack of clarity.
“We sympathise with the challenge agents have got right now,” he said. “We’re having to be nimble, and they’re having to be nimble too, because there’s so many uncertain things.
“Many cruise lines have cancelled sailings right through to the end of May now; some through to the end of June. That’s obviously not what any cruise line wants to be doing and we’re exactly the same.”
Despite the ongoing uncertainty, Bouldin insisted agents should keep selling future sailings.
“Agents should feel confident in selling 2022. I know some brands are selling into 2023 and there are some really strong performances from the trade out there,” he said.
“There’s also lots of demand and even since Boris’s roadmap last Monday, there has been a significant uptick in demand from consumers. So plenty of people are looking forward to a holiday, for sure.”
Bouldin said Royal Caribbean had seen a 30% to 40% uptick in demand since the roadmap announcement early last week.
“That continued over the weekend, and that’s proven to be fairly consistent day-over-day,” he said. “We’ve seen that across our brands so I’m very comfortable that that’s a fairly robust figure from our perspective.
“In terms of what they booking, Q4 is proving quite popular, particularly our Barbados programme that we launched; there’s good demand for that. And then we’re seeing some demand for the Caribbean through Q1 and Q2.”
Bouldin added that customers were also rebooking sailings on new ship Odyssey of the Seas after the decision this week to base it in Israel to take advantage of strong vaccine uptake.
“As we get into next summer, there is then lots of demand for Anthem and obviously, having had the cancellation of Odyssey today, we’ve got a number of people rebooking Odyssey hoping that summer 2022 ends up being her debut in Rome now,” he said.
“[After Israel] she goes to Florida, which was always the plan and that’s where she will also be named. In November, she’ll do a Caribbean winter and then she will come over next May and do the Rome season that we had always planned on her doing.”
Asked if Odyssey might make a call in Southampton en-route, as was planned this year, Bouldin said: “I can’t promise that but I’m sure we’ll do something in Rome. So we can let a few people see her there. We’ll do what we can. There’s not going to be a shortage of events for us to engage the travel retailer when we get out of this.
“When we bring our ships back into service, we will have a very robust programme whereby we can re-engage our trade partners, not only on the programmes that we’re launching, but also all of our protocols and things that we want to share with them.
“We’ve got lots to talk to them about so there will be lots of opportunities.”