Boutique and expedition cruise operators have an opportunity to redefine themselves as they rebound to become the first cruise sector to restart operations after COVID-19, according to small ship cruise specialist, Cruise Traveller.
Craig Bowen, Managing Director of the Gold Coast-based cruise wholesaler and retailer, said the expedition cruise sector had grown rapidly in recent years with a record number of small ships being launched and commissioned to meet surging demand and each showcasing eco-sustainable innovation the sector had become renowned for.
Bowen said small ship expedition companies were more aligned with the adventure travel industry than the mass cruise ship sector and that the challenging events of the past few months had highlighted the many benefits of small ship cruising and the lower risk profile of smaller vessels.
Cruise Traveller represents more than 50 boutique, luxury and expedition cruising operators around the world.
“There is no doubt the small ship expedition market is resilient and keen to travel again,” Bowen said. “Cruise Traveller’s bookings for 2021 product to the end of May 2020 are 32% up on the same period last year for 2020 sailings. While most of our guests are keen to travel overseas again in the future, the number of small ship voyages around and close to Australia will soon rise markedly and this will help satisfy pent-up demand.”
While larger cruise ships had dominated the close-to-home market for many years, COVID-19 had prompted many of Cruise Traveller’s small ship partners to debut new and creative itineraries around the Australian coastline which, Bowen says, were already selling strongly.
“Because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a reboot of cruising, there are definite indications that close-to-home, small ship expedition cruising will be the first cruise sector to restart operations because of the smaller numbers of passengers involved and the sector’s ability to quickly and efficiently instigate new onboard COVID-19 health and safety protocols will help regain the trust of the market.
“COVID-19 will continue to cause commercial pain but I believe our small ship industry will emerge from the crisis stronger than ever, with the sector benefiting from a bolstered appreciation of what makes small ship experiences different and special and what incredible travel adventures small ships can unveil for those keen to explore wilder and more remote destinations.”
Bowen says that as a leader and authority in the field, Cruise Traveller was well-positioned to assist guests, travel agents and the cruise lines through a new-look restart of the small ship cruise industry.
“Through this difficult period, Cruise Traveller has managed to retain our full product portfolio, relationships and team so we’re in a strong position to work with our partner cruise companies to get new and innovative product to the market quickly,” he said.
Bowen said the high-end expedition cruising sector was also a lucrative source of new income for travel agents due to the increased value of bookings and the significant repeat factor.