TORONTO — Promoting the right cruise deal to the right client can lead to a booking, even in these tough times, but many customers are looking at spring 2021 before they cruise again, say travel agents.
Meanwhile, today’s announcement from CLIA – that ocean-going cruise lines have extended their voluntary pause in operations until at least Oct. 31 – means more cancellations, but the extension wasn’t entirely unexpected. Last month the CDC extended its No Sail Order to at least Sept. 30.
CLIA issued the following statement: “Despite the valuable alignment between CLIA’s previous voluntary suspension to 15 September and the CDC’s current No-Sail Order date of 30 September, we believe it is prudent at this time to voluntarily extend the suspension of U.S. ocean-going cruise operations to 31 October. This is a difficult decision as we recognize the crushing impact that this pandemic has had on our community and every other industry. However, we believe this proactive action further demonstrates the cruise industry’s commitment to public health and willingness to voluntarily suspend operations in the interest of public health and safety, as has occurred twice prior.”
CLIA added that its cruise line members will continue to monitor the situation “with the understanding that we will revisit a possible further extension on or before 30 September 2020. At the same time, should conditions in the U.S. change and it becomes possible to consider short, modified sailings, we would consider an earlier restart.”
Among the impacted cruise lines, Carnival says it has informed guests and travel advisors that it has cancelled all cruises scheduled to embark between Oct. 1 and Oct. 31. As before passengers are being offered an enhanced value package of a future cruise credit and onboard credit, or a full refund.
CHALLENGES FOR CARIBBEAN CRUISING: TRAVEL AGENT FEEDBACK
Karen Marsh, Manager, Expedia Cruises in St. John’s, NL, says her agency is starting to see bookings trickle in for 2021 and 2022. “2021 sailings are more for the second half of the year, however. Many customers are not confident that we will be able to travel freely before the spring.”
Marsh adds: “We are finding that our customers who are loyal cruisers are indeed looking/thinking about cruising. Give them the right deal and they have been booking.”
Recently the CTO hosted a Facebook Live with Royal Caribbean, Carnival Corp. and MSC, talking about cruising, the Caribbean and the pandemic. The cruise lines are in contact with Caribbean destinations, working with each island’s government to find solutions so that when the CDC’s No Sail Order is lifted, the cruise companies and the destinations are ready to go.
Marsh says that when it comes to cruising post-pandemic, the Caribbean will have its challenges, chief among them the U.S. ports. COVID-19 numbers are still high south of the border, and the Canada-U.S. border remains closed until at least Aug. 21, after several extensions.
“With the current situation in the U.S., and most Caribbean cruises departing from U.S. ports, I think cruising will be the slowest to open in the Caribbean,” says Marsh. “Especially since many of those islands are now restricting travel from the U.S. to keep their case numbers low. I don’t think they are going to be in a hurry to allow the ships into port.”
Marsh says many of the bookings coming into her agency have been for Europe so far, for spring/summer 2021, with Caribbean bookings for September 2021 and beyond.
Deals help, she adds. During Celebrity Cruises’ most recent ‘double savings’ promotion, Marsh said her agency “had a very busy few days.”
Michelle Whalen with Uniglobe Enterprise Travel says she’s getting inquiries for river and expedition cruising, “because they are smaller vessels. Promotions such as AmaWaterways’ terrific offer for frontline workers has helped.”
Whalen says she too is looking at Europe as the first recovery spot for cruising, saying clients are likely to gravitate to Europe first and wait until the U.S. numbers come down before booking Caribbean cruises and their mostly U.S. ports. But she doesn’t rule out the lure of sun and sand when the snow starts to fly at home. “I think a big factor is come the Canadian winters, Canadian cruisers are ready for the Caribbean warmth.”
STAY ENGAGED, SAYS RCI’S LISA CONNELL
Lisa Connell, Director of Sales, Canada for Royal Caribbean International, says connection is key: “Staying engaged with our travel partners and encouraging them to do the same with their clients.”
That includes Zoom calls, Facebook Live and Teams sessions, trainings and webinars, says Connell. In many cases, it’s just listening to agent concerns, and offering support. “We know this is a difficult time for everyone so just being present and a friend to talk to is equally important.”
Connell adds: “Cruising will return stronger and than ever and a lot of great initiatives will come as a result. When consumers are ready we want them to think of that special travel advisor who shared incredible stories and kept in touch with them to ensure they are well. We want consumers to value what travel advisors and our industry are doing to ensure a safe and healthy return.”
Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of sales, trade support and service has been instrumental in hosting Coffee Chats every Wednesday with the trade, sharing tips and special guest speakers including featuring a different travel advisor every week on how they are staying engaged with their clients, notes Connell. And Royal Caribbean’s Chairman, Richard Fain, posts frequent and inspirational updates (viewable on YouTube) and has been on Vicki’s Coffee Chats.
Marsh says her consultants have been working hard to keep the client connection alive. And the connection pays off, whether it’s with a booking now, or down the line when travel recovers.
“When you have that personal relationship with your customers, you know who is going to be open to considering booking again,” she says.
When the Celebrity Cruises double savings promotion started, her consultants called customers “who they knew would be interested … we got a good number of bookings during that promotion. So that’s encouraging.”
Marsh adds: “What’s interesting is that of all those bookings only one was with someone using a future cruise credit. So once we are allowed to travel freely again the pent up demand will be huge combined with those people wanting to redeem those FCCs.”