TORONTO — After years of pandemic restrictions, followed by unprecedented pent-up demand, a successful Wave season this time around was never in doubt.
But even for seasoned travel advisors – not to mention the cruise lines – the sheer volume of bookings coming in during the last weeks of 2022 and the first months of 2023 has truly blown all expectations right out of the water.
LONGER SAILINGS, HIGHER CATEGORIES
Travel agents say they’ve never seen anything like it. From multiple bookings for World Cruises, to budget-be-damned longer durations and high-end stateroom categories, clients are embracing the ‘revenge travel’ trend, and then some.
Caroline Hay, GM Cruise Division, Trevello Travel Group, says this Wave season has been a record-breaker for Trevello, with a double-digit growth rate that has well surpassed 2019 sales figures.
Trevello member agencies have been adept at maximizing the pent-up demand, says Hay. Group bookings continue to thrive too. Trevello’s tools and training for members include everything from weekly cruise training sessions, to access to a cruise-focused community of Trevello members.
She says the host agency’s cruise booking metrics show a consistent increase in longer sailings and higher category bookings, boosted by promotional offerings, a growing trend among travellers to explore new destinations in superior accommodations, and a recent surge in clients who are making sure they use their vacation time – or have more time available to dedicate to travel due to retirement.
“Looking ahead, our projections indicate that these trends are continuing into 2025 which is great news all around,” Hay tells Travelweek.
WHAT THE CRUISE LINES ARE SAYING
Feedback from cruise lines on this year’s Wave season shows just how far the cruise industry has come from the dark days of 2020 and 2021. Here’s a look…
One of the most telling indicators of Wave 2023’s success – and the industry’s recovery – comes courtesy of Silversea.
The luxury cruise line now has almost 15% more on the books for 2023, than it ended up with for the entire year of 2022. “February 2023 was the biggest month booking-wise in the history of the company,” Mark Conroy, Silversea’s, Managing Director, The Americas, tells Travelweek.
And here’s more good news: “We are taking record sales calls, [and] also handling them,” says Conroy. “With a few exceptions, our phone hold times are less than 90 seconds and abandonment rates are running less than 2%.”
Conroy adds that Silversea also has a record number of travel advisors using its online booking tool, reachable through Silversea’s travel agent portal.
Conroy has a bonus tidbit for Canadian agents: Silversea continues to have great success selling in Canadian dollars at a good exchange rate for guests.
Caribbean sailings are leading the pack for Celebrity Cruises’ Wave 2023, but Europe is close behind, says Allan Brooks, Celebrity’s National Director, Market Sales – Canada.
“Wave has been amazing! We are seeing growth well over our 2019 numbers,” Brooks tells Travelweek. “Caribbean is off the charts. Both seven night and longer have been most popular. Europe is also picking up momentum. We think now that air pricing is becoming normalized, our guests feel more comfortable booking.”
Brooks says Wave 2023 will match and surpass previous years. And that’s not just the case for Celebrity. Brooks is hearing success stories from the cruise line’s agent partners too. “In speaking to our travel partners, they too are seeing ‘best ever’ results this year. Our travel partners have remained engaged and they are now starting to see the fruits of their labours.”
HOLLAND AMERICA LINE
Interest in exploring Alaska and vacation plans for 2024 helped boost cruise sales for Holland America, propelling the cruise line to record-breaking results early in the year.
Notable for Holland America Line’s highest single-day of bookings – Jan. 17 – more than 25% of the bookings that day were for voyages embarking in 2024. The results speak to the trend of cruise clients booking further out, a relief for the industry after the booking window roller coaster during the pandemic.
Viking’s booking patterns for the first weeks of 2023 have been marked by continued strong demand for longer itineraries.
A spokesperson for the cruise line says: “We are continuing to see strong interest across our fleet as our guests are seeking opportunities to spend more time with Viking on our river, ocean and expedition product including our 15-day itineraries and World Cruises. European voyages such as the 15-day river itinerary, Grand European Tour which sails along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, or the 15-day ocean journey, Viking Homelands with ports of call throughout Scandinavia, are among Viking’s most popular itineraries.”
The seven biggest booking weeks in the history of Royal Caribbean International included the first five weeks of Wave season. Meanwhile net yields for the year are expected to increase 5% to 4.5%, with more and more higher-profit sailings as load factors reach historical levels by late spring 2023.
Vicki Freed, SVP Sales, Trade Support and Service for Royal Caribbean International, had this to say: “We are experiencing a record-breaking WAVE season this year driven by strong demand and increased anticipation to cruise from both our loyal guests and travellers new to cruising. Last year we set more than three all-time booking records in our 53-year history and the momentum continues into early 2023.”
NCL’s Todd Hamilton, Senior Vice President of Sales, says the cruise line’s record-breaking success in 2022, combined with accelerated booking volumes in recent months, has led to a great start to 2023 and a strong Wave season.
“In fact, we are currently in a better booked position and at higher pricing when compared to the same time in 2019,” Hamilton tells Travelweek.
Longer, more port intensive itineraries, especially in Europe, are big right now, he adds. NCL is also eagerly anticipating its 2023 Alaska season where the line will have five ships.
“We highly encourage our Canadian travel agents to lean into our marketing headquarters, Norwegian Central, to learn more about how to sell NCL and take advantage of showcasing our Free at Sea program which includes Free Unlimited Open Bar, Free Specialty Dining and Free Airfare which opens up more cruise destinations for our Canadian guests,” says Hamilton.
In November 2022 NCL announced its decision to pay commission on NCFs. Says Hamilton: “I can’t express enough how excited I am to see the overwhelming participation we received for our history-making NCF initiative, where our travel partners submitted their marketing plans to receive commission on previously categorized as non-commissionable fares. It demonstrates their motivation to sell NCL, and interest in working with our Business Development Managers to find opportunities to succeed together.”
To read the full article, check out the March 16 edition of Travelweek here.