Cruise Officials Cite Strong Winter Bookings, Firm Pricing

By Ernest Blum

MIAMI -- After a strong start, 1997 continues to be a banner year for many cruise lines, with little fall discounting, strong winter bookings and firm pricing.

"The fall and winter picture is very good," Jim Godsman, president of Cruise Lines International Association, said. "Right now the industry is demand driven, and the pricing is strong."

At the beginning of the year, CLIA predicted passenger boardings would reach 5 million, about 7% growth following last year's 6% growth. But with the buoyant sales pattern, CLIA is raising its sights for the year to 10% passenger growth, Godsman said.

Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Carnival Cruise Lines, said, "We don't see the deep fall discounting of years past." She said the group market was particularly strong, and "agents have done a good job in explaining the value of a cruise vacation."

Bryan Rice, vice president of market planning and development for Royal Caribbean International, confirmed the strong fall outlook. "I think it's fair to say that we haven't had to do as much close-in discounting as we had to do a year ago," he said. The line's load factors for both the fall and winter are slightly ahead of where they were a year ago, he said, despite the fact that Royal Caribbean is adding two more megaships to the Caribbean this season.

Rick James, senior vice president of sales and corporate relations for Princess Cruises, said, "The fall has been quite good, and the winter and spring of 1998 are stronger than last year at this time." He added, "The odds against last-minute fall discounting are in our favor, so prices should hold and yields should be up."

According to Jack Anderson, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Holland America Line, the line is "significantly ahead of this time last year." "The fall and winter are shaping up very, very nicely. And we've had some improvements in our per diems," Anderson said.

Capt. Paris Katsoufis, president of Cunard, predicted his line will have a resurgence in the second half of the year. "We'll have record occupancies," he said, noting that the line's projected 90% occupancy level is high for the luxury market. Because of strong demand, he said, Cunard has expanded the number of QE2 berths available in inventory from 1,500 to 1,750.

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