Cruise executives said it's important that ships are operating reliably for Wave season in the beginning of 2022, citing the necessity of stability for cruisers and travel advisors.
Speaking at the first in-person Seatrade Cruise Global conference since the start of the pandemic, Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain said that compounding a difficult year for everyone in the industry is the confusion around canceled cruises and then dealing with refunds and future cruise credits.
"That's very confusing," he said. "The Wave period in the very beginning of next year is the key booking period. What we really want to do is make sure when we start that key booking period, our ships are operating, they can see they're operating, they can see the protocols are working. They can see people taking cruises and they're not going worry about cancellations and this or that.
"We really need to get back to a period of stability, and I think getting more ships operating is a good way to do that. The flywheel has an important effect," he said. "The word of mouth -- people are taking cruises and coming back and raving about them. They're obnoxious about how great they are. I'm all for that."
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Both Carnival Corp. CEO Donald and Fain said that record-high guest satisfaction scores will help.
"We are proud of our innovations and new ships, but the thing that really makes it different is the crew onboard," Fain said. "Our guest satisfaction scores are at levels we never imagined. ... The crew members are excited to back, and that is so contagious. Every letter I get -- even the complaint letters -- remark about how extraordinary the crew members are."
Attracting the first-time cruiser
Donald said that positive testimony from guests will help the industry grow by encouraging first-time cruisers. Past cruisers, Donald said, "are comfortable" having seen the cruise lines handle previous outbreaks.
"People who haven't cruised, they have reasons they haven't cruised before so for a period of time, they are going to be tougher to penetrate," Donald said. "Although, we are seeing first-time cruisers on the ships. But as a general population, we'll have to chip away at that. The most powerful marketing tool is word of mouth. And as we continue to sail safely and successfully and people are having the time of their lives and building lifelong memories, they are going to share that and we'll once again see the growth in the industry that we've experienced."
Fain said Royal Caribbean has been surprised at how many first-timers are sailing on its ships now.
"When we went into this pandemic, all surveys showed a dramatic bias," Fain said. "People who had cruised had real confidence in the cruise lines, but people who hadn't cruised were skeptical."
As a result, the assumption was that Royal's base would come back and that "it would take years to penetrate into the rest of the market."
"That hasn't happened," he said. "The first-timers are coming."