Cruise pricing improved in April after a dismal March, but bookings are down, according to a survey of travel agents by Bank of America equity analysts.

The banks monthly Travel Agent Survey found that there had been a subtle improvement in trends after a dismal March, wrote Michael Savner, Bank of Americas leisure analyst.

Savner said that key pricing and demand indexes ticked higher in April and that Bank of America expected yield increases in the second half of this year. Most of the years growth is weighted toward the December quarter, he said.

Bank of Americas booking index dropped from 58.0 in March to 51.1 in April, its lowest point since the company began tracking cruise bookings in August 2006. Savner said he believed the dip reflected seasonal trends as well as continued weakness in the Caribbean.

The decline in the index may be related to the seasonally slow period after the end of the Wave season, Savner wrote.

An index score above 50 means that bookings were higher than the same month last year, while below 50 means bookings were lower than the year before. He noted that the score indicated that agents said year-over-year bookings were slightly higher than the year before despite the indexs sequential decline.

Meanwhile, pricing continued its recovery streak for the third month in a row, Savner wrote, which he attributed to the lengthening of the booking window, reduced level of price promotions and general seasonal benefits.

We believe that some aggressive promotions offered during the height of Wave season have begun to roll off, which is helping aggregate pricing trends, he said. The key factor we will watch is whether the aggressive promotions in February and March will be enough to drive demand growth into the spring. ... Given the importance of ticket prices on net yields, we believe that increasing pricing trends may indicate an improving net yield environment.

Caribbean demand improved slightly, Savner said, because of the lines aggressive price promotions.

Alaska demand in April was stable and better than in March, the survey indicated, but still soft compared with last year.

The tepid results jibe with [Royal Caribbean] managements commentary that Alaska is good, but not as strong as Europe, Savner wrote.

When asked what cruise region had the strongest bookings relative to last year, agents listed Europe as the strongest, followed by the Caribbean. Alaska came in last.

Compared with the response from March, Savner wrote, the largest decline was in Alaska, with the percentage of agents listing it as the strongest region decreasing from 16% in March to 12% in April.  

To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].

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