A prominent Toronto travel agency says it’s seeing a surge in cruise bookings, even as a growing number of coronavirus cases linked to the delta variant are refocusing attention on a virus that has done the travel industry huge damage.
And Bob Family Travel Team says river cruising – which carries passengers on smaller vessels than those that are usually used on ocean sailings – is leading the rebound.
“The Bob Family Travel Team at TravelOnly has seen the largest volume of sales for cruises this year that we have ever seen, even pre-pandemic, especially river cruises,” says the agency’s Pat Probert. “So many people have booked Uniworld cruises recently for 2022 that we are now approaching 200 clients booked and we have never seen numbers like this, ever. Even others have booked more with other river cruise lines as well as they all seem to want that smaller cruise experience. We are finding the same is true with some of our cruise partners like Carnival, Celebrity, Princess and Norwegian and others, where sales are up but nothing like the river cruises.
“We are selling both river and ocean cruises for 2023 as well and we have clients already signed up for some of our hosted cruise groups in 2024. Just recently, we have seen more inquiries for cruises for late 2021, including clients who had already booked sailings in the past for this fall. However this is very limited as Canadians are very conservative when it comes to travel for this year. We are looking for our first cruise on the Celebrity APEX in October 2021 as our first sailing. These clients are looking at travelling.”
Rising bookings are coming even as Probert recognizes that there are still members of the public likely leery of booking cruises, recalling outbreaks of coronavirus on cruise ships in spring of 2020 and the often chaotic situations that then arose.
Probert says his agents’ clients are starting to see “lots of positive things happening, and agents need to focus on the positive side of what is happening in cruising. Cruise lines have spent almost $23.5 billion on everything from new filtration systems and so much more to make travel safe for all clients and it is messages like this that travel advisors need to get out.”
Bob Family Travel has been monitoring websites and reviews from people now on ships and says they seem to all be upbeat, a positive sign. The agency also applauds the many new safety protocols put in place by the cruise lines that have resumed sailing.
“Of course there will always be some problems,” Probert states. “However, as long as these are in check, clients will feel comfortable in travelling, especially if we as travel advisors are travelling and reporting with live updates.”
He says one issue for agents now is mixed vaccines. “This is going to be a huge issue for Canadians as final payments are coming due in October and November for cruises and clients will be cancelling unless the cruise lines change and allow AstraZeneca or a mix of any of these vaccines. The cruise lines need to do more to help Canadians travelling because it is very sad that Quebec had to announce they are allowing residents to have a third shot of the vaccine just so they can travel. The management at the cruise lines need to understand the Canadian market and listen to their BDMs and managers here in Canada before it is too late.”
Meanwhile, Probert suggests that those who are nervous about cruises opt for smaller river cruises, smaller-ship ocean cruises or ships with larger capacities but are limiting the number of passengers to below capacity to ensure social distancing.
“Now is the time to upgrade to a larger suite or may book an Aqua Class cabin on a Celebrity ship, where you have private fine dining in the Blu restaurant,” says Bob Family Travel’s Mary de Almeida. “When you book a suite you eat in the exclusive private Luminae Suite restaurant. Now may also be time to eat in all of the many different restaurants on ships and bypass some of the dining rooms.
“A number of our clients are taking our advice and have already booked Aqua Class on Celebrity for Alaska and other places for 2022. Cruise lines like Carnival, Celebrity and others have also created a more contactless experience on board with the increased use of different apps like the HUB App and QR codes on Carnival or Princess with the Medallion and all of this helps.”
A number of additional protocols have been implemented, such as expanded health screenings, HVAC upgrades, crew members having to wear masks, and enhanced cleaning and sanitizing procedures, leading Probert to suggest cruising will be safer than ever.
“Even with a few (coronavirus) cases on some cruise ships, passengers do not seem to be too concerned as there will be some Covid everywhere, including ships, offices, sports events and more. Take a look at the Japan Olympics — there were Covid cases there.
However those new cases did not disrupt the Olympics. It is very important that people be vaccinated so you do not get as sick, even though you could still transfer the virus. Agents need to provide all clients the FAQs on the supplier sites, which have a wealth of knowledge on them. These FAQs will help instill confidence in the clients that are travelling.
“All cruise lines have worked closely with the CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control) to develop protocols in case someone tests positive on board – with enhanced medical procedures, isolation cabins, homeport agreements and other protocols developed for guests and crew safety. A great deal has been learned over the past 16 months, especially that guidelines and direction are constantly changing, so the cruise lines will remain up to date, flexible and patient as adjustments are made.”
Probert also says cruise companies operating on reduced capacity should help reassure those who remain nervous.
“This is a good thing and some of these additional measures will be in place through at least October,” he adds. “Cruise lines are holding back space on some ships as well as some of the cruise lines have not put their ships in the water yet and this is causing a stronger robust market for some of the companies. More space will slowly come back on line. Vaccinations have been incredibly helpful in the recovery of the cruise line industry – they’ve allowed the industry to return to cruising and to give all of our clients the wonderful vacation experiences they’ve come to know and love once again. Over time the cruise lines such as Carnival, Celebrity, Norwegian, Princess and others plan to increase capacity and eventually operate our ships at full capacity and we know clients will be booking.”