TORONTO — The cruise industry’s comeback in the past year has been on a steep and steady incline, with many travellers once again feeling safe enough to board a ship and set sail.
According to the Global Rescue Summer 2022 Traveler Safety and Sentiment Survey, which went out to more than 2,100 current and former Global Rescue members between July 12-16, 2022, comfort levels for cruising climbed 21%. Nearly a quarter (23%) said they feel much safer or safe enough to cruise now, compared to only 19% of respondents earlier this year. Even more telling, 40% of respondents have already taken a cruise since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, or if they haven’t, they plan to this year.
“Confidence in cruising safety is reflected in traveller perception and behaviour,” said Dan Richards, CEO of Global Rescue. “The cruise industry will continue to rebound since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discontinued its COVID-19 Program for cruise ships on July 18.”
CDC’s cruise program aimed to regulate and monitor health and safety protocols across cruise ships in U.S. waters, including COVID-19 testing and a colour-coding system that measured the number of cases onboard. With the elimination of the program, the CDC says cruise ships now have “access to guidance and tools to manage their own COVID-19 mitigation programs” and that cruise travellers can make their own decisions about cruise ship travel. The CDC will continue to publish guidance to help cruise ships continue to provide “a safer and healthier environment” for passengers, crew and communities.
“Travellers are eager to make up for lost travel and they want to do it as safely and confidently as possible so they can regain their family vacations and adventure travels,” adds Richards. “Seven out of 10 travellers are less concerned about travel, including cruises, compared to the beginning of the pandemic. They are going forward with international and domestic travel despite rising costs and travel industry staff shortages.”
WHAT ARE TRAVEL ADVISORS SAYING?
Travelweek checked in with several travel advisors to see whether they’ve noticed an uptick in cruise bookings since the CDC dropped its Cruise Program.
Valerie Murphy of Vision Travel in Waterloo, Ontario, says she has definitely seen an increase in in recent weeks, attributing the upward trend to “the loosening of COVID-19 and border restrictions” and the clear and comprehensive health and safety protocols implemented by cruise lines.
When asked whether she thinks the CDC’s decision to drop its COVID-19 Cruise Program has had any impact on forward bookings, Murphy says yes, as it was widely reported in the news. “It seemed to be the one thing clients needed to hear, an approval to say that cruising is safe,” says Murphy.
Tony Santelli, a Senior Travel Advisor at FunRexAlcyon Travel in Laval, QC, is also experiencing an increase in cruise bookings due to what he says are less travel restrictions and fewer reported outbreaks on cruise ships since cruising largely resumed last summer.
“Already, some cruise lines are no longer requiring pre-cruise testing on short cruises, and I expect before I set sail on a 14-day cruise in November that pre-testing will become a thing of the past. Plus, the pricing for 2022 sailings is very reasonable right now,” says Santelli, who adds that he’s already booking many cruises for 2023. “The CDC dropping its Cruise Program is being interpreted by many consumers that it is now safe to cruise. Once the cruise lines remove the pre-cruise testing on all seven-day or longer cruises, then everything will get back to normal.”
Not every travel advisor is seeing an uptick in cruise business, however. Joanne Saab of Curated Travel in Ancaster, Ontario, says that momentum is building mainly among her American clients, who regard the elimination of the Cruise Program as one less hoop for them to jump through.
“But for Canadians, I think the situation is a little more nuanced. It’s been a slower return to cruising for many Canadians who are finally starting to feel comfortable with the concept of ocean cruising again,” says Saab.
She does note, however, that dropping the COVID-19 program is a step in the right direction and sends a positive message to Canadians that it’s truly safe to cruise again.
“Interestingly enough, my first passengers to begin rebooking cruises were my senior clients. It’s been a pleasant surprise to see how many seniors are ready to get back to cruising – they still love it!” adds Saab.
Marianne Vogel, Owner of Just for You Travel & Consulting in Dundas, Ontario, is also seeing a slower recovery in cruise sales, though she does have a few booked for later this fall and next summer.
“Canadians are still scared to leave the country other than to visit relatives or go to an all-inclusive. They seem to still be skeptical of cruising and think cruise ships are incubators of sickness, particularly now with the media frenzy over another wave coming,” she says.
When comparing Canadian clients with Americans, Vogel adds Canadians have a few more challenges that may be deterring them from cruising.
“They have to fly to most destinations to depart for a cruise whereas many ports are within driving distance for Americans,” she says. “Americans also don’t have to deal with the ArriveCan app, which seems to be a problem as it’s become tiresome and not very accurate. So people are staying home or travelling across provinces instead of cruising.
“My crystal ball doesn’t know what to think right now, only time will tell. But unless we step forward and take a chance, everything will be in a holding pattern.”