SECAUCUS, N.J. -- It's mid-January and Wave season is in full swing, but according to a poll conducted by Travel Weekly and its parent company's NTM Research nearly half of agents said they see "steady bookings throughout the year."

Of the 865 agent respondents, 44% said sales patterns have flattened to a more-steady, year-round pace, while 23% said they've never encountered the Wave phenomenon.

A third of respondents said they expect to see greater interest in cruises during the Wave period, which runs roughly through mid-March.

Tim Conder, an analyst with A.G. Edwards & Sons, said the continuing close-in booking patterns would affect agents' Wave-season sales.

"Just by definition, if people are booking closer in, you won't book as much of your season within the second week of January," Conder said. But that doesn't mean that Wave is dead, or unimportant, he added.

"I don't know if it is as important as it was pre-9/11," Conder said. "But this one will be the most 'normalized' Wave season we've had since."

Nearly half of respondents said they book less than 40% of their annual business during the period -- a number that fit Conder's estimates. A "normal" Wave season, he said, would represent between 30% and 35% of a cruise line's annual bookings.

Nearly 60% of respondents said they expected to see an increase in cruise sales compared with 2003 -- a Wave season that was negatively impacted by pre-Iraq war jitters. Only 3% predicted a lower number of cruise sales year-over-year.

Forty-four percent of agents said they will step up promotional efforts during the period using cruise line materials.

An equal number said they "don't do anything differently" during Wave, and 12% said they do "unique" Wave promotions.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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