TORONTO — The good news is cruising will finally be resuming this summer, with a handful of cruise lines operating from non-U.S. ports. The bad news? Canada’s non-essential travel advisory and quarantine requirements are still in place.
In recent weeks the cruise industry, which has been on pause since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, has seen several cruise lines like Holland America, NCL, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Crystal work their way around ongoing restrictions in U.S. and Canadian waters by moving their ships to the Mediterranean and the Caribbean to resume summer voyages. And just this week, Carnival hinted at a possible July restart in the U.S. with select ships following the CDC’s announcement that cruising from U.S. ports could possibly restart by mid-summer.
All this is certainly welcome news for an industry that has been among the hardest hit throughout the pandemic (CLIA puts the total global economic loss from mid-March 2020 through September 2020 at US$50 billion), but will the resumption of select cruises this summer make a difference to Canadians who are still contending with a 14-day quarantine rule, a three-day hotel quarantine requirement and pre- and post-arrival PCR testing?
Travelweek checked in with several travel agents to ask whether they’ve seen an increase in either bookings or inquiries in recent weeks:
Ana Tremblay, Owner/Manager, Algonquin Travel & Cruise Centre, Ottawa, ON
“We have certainly seen an increase in inquiries but only some bookings, mostly the long-duration cruises for 2022 and 2023,” says Tremblay. “Clients have a sense of needing to ‘catch up’ on their travel plans and don’t want to miss out on the limited number of balconies. This seems to be the most asked-for category.
“All cruise lines are seeing an increase in demand but it is being driven by the American traveller because Canadians are taking a wait-and-see approach. The biggest hurdle is the hotel quarantine and PCR testing.”
Tremblay also notes that the clients she has spoken to since March 2020 will feel most comfortable about cruising again if crew and fellow travellers are vaccinated.
“The hope is if enough people get the vaccine, cruising will reopen. The cruising demographic will all have their first vaccine by the end of May so by the end of September they should be ready to travel,” she adds.
To keep clients informed about the latest cruise updates, Tremblay’s office sends out a weekly newsletter to clients. She says that throughout the pandemic, clients have shown a “keen desire to keep up with travel news.”
Annie Benayoun, Sr. Travel Specialist, Business, Groups and Incentives, Direct Travel Services, Montreal, QC
In the past few weeks, Benayoun has seen an uptick in bookings and inquiries for Celebrity’s newest ships to Europe, Galapagos and South America, as well as for Europe voyages with Silversea and NCL. She’s been sending updated newsletters to qualified clients and following up to keep them informed of which cruise lines are resuming operations.
When asked whether proof of vaccination, which the majority of cruise lines are now requiring, will be difficult for clients to provide, considering the lag time between doses in Canada (four months versus 21 days in other countries), Benayoun says her agency is holding out hope that the time period will be reduced once all age brackets receive their first dose.
“In any case the majority of clients who are booking now are more in the 55+ bracket and they will be getting their second dose in early July,” she says. “We assume they will be able to travel by August 2021 and they are willing to take the risk given the flexible rules and conditions offered by the cruise lines.”
Teresa Simon, Travel Advisor, Vision Travel Solutions, Paris, ON
Simon has seen an increase in cruise bookings for 2022 – but not much for 2021.
“The slow vaccine rollout and current lockdown situation in Ontario just aren’t conducive to getting to the ships right now,” she says.
Even more, Simon thinks that for 2021, mandatory vaccines are going to curtail travel for a lot of Canadians. “That being said,” she adds, “I believe it is an excellent idea and will make me feel safer when cruising.”
To keep clients informed of the resumption of cruising, Simon credits her agency’s marketing department for hosting virtual Special Cruise Events. Her agency also emails weekly updates to previous clients who have indicated that they’d like to receive information when cruise specials are announced. “We have been trying to keep in contact with our regular clients, not necessarily about travel but life in general,” she says.
Sonia Kotzen, Travel Advisor, Travel Only, Toronto, ON
“As far as my Canadian clients are concerned, there is definite interest in cruising but our government has instituted a COVID-19 hotel quarantine that will cost them up to an extra $2,000, which my clients find discouraging,” says Kotzen. “There there’s the self-quarantine, which has been in place for over a year.”
Though these two requirements certainly pose a challenge to Canadians, Kotzen says lack of trust in cruise lines is another reason why bookings have fallen off. She cites various decisions made my cruise lines throughout the course of the pandemic that have caused clients to lose confidence in them, including repeatedly cancelling cruises, relaying “confusing” information about mask wearing, being too slow to refund paid passengers, changing ports of call and offering future cruise credits with restrictions.
But all this hasn’t stop Kotzen herself from booking an NCL cruise from Barcelona this October. She’s also booked for an Antarctic Crystal cruise departing Buenos Aires in December.
As for her clients, Kotzen is recommending that they consider travell in 2023.
“When my clients call to ask how safe it is to travel, it’s an awkward question because I don’t know. I suggest that they should at least book a cruise now before prices increase and they can take advantage of some of the great value that most cruise lines offer. Great rates and promotions are key for booking now for 2023 cruise,” she says.
Joanne Saab, Travel Advisor, Curated Travel, Ancaster, ON
While Saab has had U.S. clients inquire about summer cruises in 2021, the Ancaster agent says Canadians, for the most part, are holding off for now.
“Canadian clients have been inquiring and booking cruises for 2022 but nothing for 2021 due to the current Canadian travel restrictions in place,” she says. “In the past few weeks I have started to see a significant uptick in regular inquiries for travel, mostly for 2022 onward. Though past cruise clients are generally open to the idea of cruising moving forward and are ready to start planning for 2022 and beyond, I do not see a significant return to travel at this time for Q3 and Q4 for Canadians.”
In the meantime, Saab is keeping busy by educating clients about the various safety precautions that have been implemented by cruise lines, and highlighting the lines that are now requiring passengers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
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