Strong demand for Oceania Cruises as cruise credits dry up

LATTE chats with Howard Sherman, President/CEO

Booking levels for Oceania Cruises‘ 2023 and 2024 global deployments are through the roof, says the cruise line’s President and CEO Howard Sherman, and Australian cruisers are leading the charge in terms of dollars being spent.

In Sydney this week for the first time, Sherman told LATTE that “business is stellar”, with record booking levels for the coming years, and the ANZ market helping to fuel the fire.

Sherman said Oceania Cruises’ 2023 program is nearly two-thirds full, “which is much higher than we’d usually be at this standard normal, pre-pandemic booking cycle, and so we’re very happy with that.”

The vast majority of that business is also new “cash bookings”, Sherman noted, with Future Cruise Credits offered to guests impacted by the COVID pandemic “really wound down”.

Steve Odell, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Asia Pacific added that the local team had been working with travel advisors and their direct clients to ensure the FCCs had been utilised. Odell said the number of future credits left was very low now.

Toscana, the Italian restaurant aboard Oceania Cruises' Vista

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Sherman said: “From all markets we’re seeing people want to travel because they were limted by the pandemic, so they’re booking travel for next year or the year following. They figure there won’t be anything to be concerned about by that point.”

He said demand for Northern Europe for 2023 is “off the charts” after cruising in the region was depressed due to the invasion of Ukraine.

“No one wanted to go there this year, but it appears people believe by next year it will be fine to return to the region.”

Oceania Cruises operates programs in the region to Copenhagen, Sweden, Finland and the fjords instead, which Sherman says has been “extremely popular”.

So far in 2022, Oceania has achieved two record launches, including the recent release of the Round the World and Grand Voyage collections.

The Australian market has responded stronger – more so than other regions,” the cruise boss said.

Howard Sherman, President and CEO, Oceania Cruises

“Australians book further out, they book longer cruises, they book higher cabin categories, they spend more on those cruises than anywhere else in the world because they have to make more of an effort to go places, they want to make it more worthwhile when they do go there,” he explained.

Jason Worth, Vice President, Australia & New Zealand at Oceania Cruises noted that just this week a past Oceania Cruises guest of a travel advisor had booked a Vista suite, one of the cruise line’s top suites aboard Insignia, for its World Cruise in 2025 – a 200-day voyage.

Oceania Cruises’ special fare offer listed online for that suite and voyage is $253,470 per person, meaning a very healthy commission for that lucky travel advisor.

New ship Vista, remains on track

Sherman confirmed to LATTE that Oceania’s first new build cruise ship in 11 years, Vista, remains on track “as far as we know”, for delivery on 28 April 2023 from Fincantieri. Vista‘s christening cruise is planned for 6 May, operating roundtrip from Rome. The christening will take place in Malta on 13 May, and the first revenue sailing will be on 20 May. The ship’s godmother is yet to be revealed.

Vista in Monaco render

Bookings for the 1,200-passenger ship’s inaugural season have been “spectacular,” Sherman added.

The currently unnamed sister-ship of Vista is scheduled to enter service in 2025. The first steel for that vessel has already been cut, however it hasn’t been decided as yet if it will be a carbon copy of Vista.

“It could be. It’ll be the same size in terms of passengers but there might be some different guest elements. It could be that we love everything so much onboard Vista so we don’t want to change anything. That’s a possibility.

“Or it could be that we want to change something we have a great new idea about and decide we’re going to do something different. That just hasn’t been settled yet.”

Questioned by LATTE when Vista might grace Australian shores, Sherman hinted that it could be in 2025.

Traditionally, over the years, Oceania has positioned its R Series class of ships in Australia. But the arrival of Vista will enable the cruise line to rotate some of its O class ships (Marina and Riviera) or Vista in future years.

“It could be in 2025 for instance, when we get the second new ship. But that’s certainly in our plans,” he said.

Ember, aboard Oceania Cuises' Vista

Sherman also said that discussions for two future new builds are ongoing with Fincantieri. Should the order come to fruition, Oceania Cruises would build vessels that are slightly larger than Vista, but accommodate around the same number of passengers, with increased dining experiences onboard. That potential new order would be for vessels delivered in 2027 and 2029.

With the addition of increasing numbers of new ships, LATTE queried Sherman if fleet consolidation was also being evaluated by Oceania Cruises.

We don’t have any immediate plans to do so. I think, say 10 years from now, you would have had to probably move out some ships in that timeframe. Especially as you keep acquiring new ships, then it’s just part of a good corporate fleet management strategy. But we don’t have any plans to do so at this point,” Sherman concluded.

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