Future cruise demand is thriving, but where does that leave 2021?

Nearly 75% of consumers say they are likely to cruise in the next few years

If advanced demand for ocean cruising is anything to go by, there is certainly an insatiable desire from the public to head back to sea.

New COVID-19 health and safety protocols that have either been proposed, phased-in or already adopted have clearly eased the minds of cruise passengers who, rightfully, had concerns about cruising in the wake of the pandemic.

Multiple cruise lines have already begun releasing part, or extensive portions, of their 2023 schedules and world voyages are proving extremely popular.

Oceania Cruises recently declared its 180-day World Voyage in 2023 had sold out within hours of going on sale. Meanwhile, Steve Odell, SVP and MD for Asia Pacific, Regent Seven Seas Cruises last month encouraged travel advisors to “think ’22, ’23” when targeting their databases for new cruise bookings.

Just last week, Frank Del Rio, the President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (the parent company of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line) said that the business was encouraged by “the strong demand for future cruise vacations”.

Reporting its Q4 and Full Year 2020 results, NCLH noted that “despite reduced sales and marketing investments, and a travel agency industry that has not been at full strength for months, bookings have been strong for future periods resulting in an elongated booking window as guests book further into the future.”

Seven Seas Explorer
Seven Seas Explorer, Regent Seven Seas Cruises

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The strategy for releasing 2023 programs – nearly two years in advance – raises the question, ‘Have cruise lines now given up on 2021?’

We’re only 60 days or so into the calendar year, and while that means there is still a solid 80% of the year yet to come, some cruise companies have already extended their voluntary pauses through until June and July 2021, due to the ongoing COVID-19 dilemma.

“It’s not unusual for cruise lines to have multiple seasons available in the marketplace at the same time, and cruise passengers are notable for often booking well ahead,” says Joel Katz, Managing Director Australasia, Cruise Lines International Association.

“That doesn’t mean nearer departures aren’t a priority, and the industry is certainly very focused on achieving a responsible pathway to resumption as early as possible in 2021,” Katz explained to LATTE.

An empty Sydney Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay

However, CLIA isn’t expecting an overnight resurgence once cruise lines are re-authorised to resume sailings.

“We certainly expect the resumption of cruising in our region to be a gradual, phased process.”

“We envisage beginning with limited domestic-only itineraries within an Australian bubble while international borders remain closed. In time this could be expanded, in line with health authority guidance and travel restrictions that exist at the time.”

Those comments come as Aurora Expeditions this week revealed its intention to offer its maiden Australian deployment commencing as early as June 2021.

Katz added that early release of future season cruise programs is not uncommon, and has been seen in past years prior to the pandemic.

“Cruise lines often have multiple seasons in the marketplace at the same time and many passengers like to book well ahead. Anecdotally, we are hearing that demand is encouragingly strong in the near and longer-term.”

Cruise passengers returning to their ships (Scenic Eclipse and Allure of the Seas) at Cozumel, Mexico © Guy Dundas

“CLIA’s own consumer research shows 74% of cruisers say they are likely to cruise in the next few years, and as many as two out of three are willing to cruise within a year. Individual cruise lines will obviously make their own commercial decisions on the best time for releases, and the variety of offerings available at the moment reflects that,” he said.

LATTE quizzed Katz on whether he believes the cruise recovery period would be 12-months or more, by which time cruise lines should be on top of their COVID-19 health and safety protocols, such as social distancing and reduced capacity.

“The focus remains very much on achieving a tightly managed resumption in this region as soon as possible in 2021. Though we don’t yet know precise timing, we have had welcome recognition from governments of the extensive health measures cruise lines have committed to, as well as our vision for a phased resumption beginning with domestic-only sailings.”

“Our health measures are multi-layered and are designed to be enduring, but also adaptable depending on things like new medical advances and the status of the pandemic.”

“It’s difficult to make predictions on the industry’s recovery, but we are a resilient industry and the support of the cruising public is strong. With extensive health measures in place, we can feel more confident about the future, both for our cruise line members and for our travel agent partners,” Katz concluded.

Lead image credit: Alonso Reyes/Unsplash

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