After a long pause in cruise operations, people are ready to book again, said President of Expedia Cruises Matthew Eichhorst.
“Global searches between April and September this year for cruises in 2021 gradually increased month-on-month, with a noticeable month-on-month spike between August and September. Since then, the monthly average number of searches between October and November was up by almost 30 percent compared with the monthly average of April to September for trips next year,” he told Cruise Industry News.
According to Expedia, the recent safety enhancements by cruise lines had led to a surge in consumer confidence, which in turn ensured growth in searches and bookings.
This consumer confidence will grow even more once cruise lines show how they comply with the CDC regulations and coronavirus vaccines become widely available, Eichhorst said.
“Frequent cruisers will be the first to go, particularly once the vaccine kicks off, and once the wider market sees that it can work and can be a safe experience, we’ll start seeing first-time cruisers increase gradually. We’re hoping for a neat overlap between the vaccine rollout, the cruise lines increasing their testing capabilities, and the CDC’s updates on protocols next year,” Eichhorst said.
Additionally, according to him, fear of missing out is also a big contributing factor to mature customers’ recent increase in interest.
“Our more mature customers this year have told us that they’re devastated to have lost a year of being able to tick off their bucket list. They are chomping at the bit to cruise again once they know it’s safe to do so,” Eichhorst said. “It’s this demographic who are starting to plan now for their next big trip – we’re seeing strong interest for cruises sailing in 12 to 18 months’ time.”
According to Expedia, the most popular destinations for U.S. citizens who searched for 2021 cruises in September were the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Europe, and Alaska.
“We’ve always known that the Caribbean is a popular choice among U.S. cruise travelers, even pre-COVID-19. It tends to be a popular choice for those who are newer to cruising, and it’s more ‘local’ in the minds of U.S. travelers, so there’s a convenience element there too,” Eichhorst explained.
However, Eichhorst said, challenges will lie for cruise operators in attracting people who never cruised before.
“(W)e see this as a unique opportunity for the industry to reposition itself as one of the safest ways to travel. If we can achieve that, we’ll be in a strong position. I believe that this message is easier via offline agencies versus online,” Eichhorst said.
He added that another challenge is sailing at a reduced capacity when so many travelers will want to redeems their future cruise credits.
“If some ships are sailing at 50 percent capacity, with perhaps only around 25 percent of all ships on the water in Q2 (of 2021), the industry really only has around 12.5 percent capacity available at least in the short-term. We expect that to ramp quickly though as we move into the second half of next year, and we’re prepped and ready to support partners and travelers as we move through that journey,” he said.