MIAMI - For the travel industry, it was undoubtedly a welcome surprise to hear Frank Del Rio’s comments about consumers booking cruises to far-flung destinations in 2021.
The Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO was speaking about the company’s two upscale brands, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas, and the demand for Japan, Dubai and world cruises they are experiencing in the first and second quarters of 2021.
Many poll results and commentaries would indicate that people are wary of taking long-haul flights or planning long vacations until a vaccine or cure for Covid-19 is found. But NCLH’s bookings indicate that there is pent-up demand for all kinds of travel and enough optimism to start planning those trips now.
“This notion that people aren’t going to want to cruise to faraway places or exotic destinations, what we’re seeing is defying that,” Mr Del Rio said, adding that some Japan itineraries and world cruise segments are “sold out”.
Other upscale lines noted similar trends.
Silversea Cruises chief marketing officer Barbara Muckermann said in a media call May 19 that expedition cruises such as Antarctica, the Arctic and the Galapagos are very popular for 2021, and that, overall, passengers are booking the same places next year they were planning to visit this year.
“So, if they cancelled a spring Mediterranean itinerary, they tend to book a similar itinerary,” Ms Muckermann said.
Also, surprising, she said, is that Silversea has found that its older guests, ages 61 to 80, are among those most likely to rebook.
“It is a little counterintuitive, but they are the travellers who want to go back first,” she said.
Ms Muckermann said she believed that guests were open to booking far-flung, expedition itineraries because they sail to uninhabited places and because they are bucket-list destinations.
Helping to push such bookings are very flexible cruise line cancellation policies and reduced deposits.
Ms Muckermann said that “the numbers magically turned from red to black” just after Silversea launched a reduced-deposit option, in which guests can book a cruise with US$1,000 down, which they get back as a shipboard credit, along with an additional 10% discount.
“They just needed a small nudge to say go,” she said. “We are hopeful that this is the beginning of a recovery.”
Crystal Cruises has also found consumers are responding well to its reduced-deposit programmes and flexible cancellation policies, according to Jack Anderson, a former cruise line executive who is currently consulting for Crystal.
He said passengers are not only booking Crystal’s world cruise in 2021 but also in 2022 and 2023 as well as Asia and Middle East cruises.
“People who love cruising are generally optimistic that we have a future that’s going to allow them to explore the world again,” he said.