Sailing into the comeback

With vaccination rates on the rise, traveller confidence is increasing each day.

“It’s a whole new world right now,” says Ealeen Wong, Director, Strategy and Business Development at Expedia Group. “The great news is with pent up demand for travel like never before people are eager to make up for missed moments.”

In fact, the travel company is witnessing a surge of interest that’s translating into longer trips, booking upgrades and more diverse destinations across the board.

Based on new research and takeaways from Expedia Cruises’ recent 2021 Virtual Conference, here are some top insights and noteworthy trends.

“At Expedia Cruises, we’ve seen a shift towards higher spend per cabin and modern trips. In Q1 of this year we saw the average length of a booking jump up from nine to 11 days, and the average spend per cabin increased by just over 100% versus 2019,” she says.

Wong says people are also booking more upgrades for balconies and suites on their upcoming departures.

“From a demographic standpoint, we’ve also seen a little bit of a shift. Right at the offset there were a lot of repeat customer bookings, we’re starting to see interest now from younger travellers as ships return to sailing as well,” she adds.

According to a new Expedia Group survey across American travellers, Millennials are nearly twice as likely as Gen Zers to book a cruise in the next six months.

“We’re hoping to capture some new to cruise customers as well,” she says. “The survey also revealed that specific to the younger generation, we’re also seeing environmentally bound policies have increasing value, second only to price.”

Lastly, with customers looking to make up for missed moments, Wong reports travellers are going big.

“We’ve seen a spike in bookings for world cruises, and exotics,” she notes. “While the top-booked destinations year-to-date include Europe and the Caribbean, we’re finding Alaska has made a very strong comeback.”

Similarly, Kyle Matheson, an Expedia Cruises franchise owner in Richmond, B.C., is also seeing a trend in longer bookings, with average length of trips going from 7.5 to over 11 nights.

“We’re also seeing people plan further out and they’re buying up,” he says. “If it was going to be an inside cabin, they’re going for balconies now. Also, [we’re] seeing a bit of a buy-in for extending their family.”

Whereas previously only a set couple embarked on the cruise, he says they’re now bringing their sons and daughters and their kids along.

“[They’re] saying if we haven’t been able to see each other in a year and a half, let’s all go together on a big trip,” he reports. “Also, the destinations are much more broad and really deeper into the exotics from world cruises to South African safaris, we’re really seeing that people are wanting to celebrate travel and really get back out there.”

Although many clients are booking in advance for 2022 and beyond, Matheson says last-minute bookings are also picking up now that a growing number of Canadians are fully vaccinated. 

With a plethora of information to stay on top of, he also believes the value of using a travel advisor will continue to be at the forefront.

This is the day of the travel professional,” Matheson says, noting that he foresees even those who previously booked travel on their own will be drawn to the services of an expert. “I really mean it when I say this is the age of the travel professional. Going from travel agent to travel consultant is not just a naming of what we do. It’s getting deeper into things and planning their travel journey and not just this journey but over their lifetime.”

Interestingly, Expedia Cruises also gained a lot of members during the pandemic.

“In spite of the pandemic, we’ve almost recruited 800 new agents in 2020,” says Wong. “It’s actually been a huge focus during the last 15 months.”

Meanwhile, Cathy Denroche, Director of Sales, Western Canada and Pacific Northwest at Oceania Cruises, says that despite a constant stream of negative publicity, the cruise industry is going strong.

“People who have cruised, and even [those who are] new to [the] brand, they haven’t lost one ounce of confidence in cruising itself. We’re seeing this huge growth,” she says. “In January we announced our full world cruise of 180 days for 2023. It sold out in 24 hours. The entire 180 day cruise. It wasn’t segments. It’s revenge travel almost. People couldn’t travel in 2020. They couldn’t travel so far in ’21 and now they’re saying I’m just going to go for whatever I can get. I think that’s a really exciting part, that these really exciting times are about to come upon us.”

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