Dubai, Galapagos and beyond as cruisers think long-haul for ’21

Silversea Cruises guests hiking down from the Neko Harbor overlook on the Antarctic Peninsula.
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For the travel industry, it was undoubtedly a welcome surprise to hear Frank Del Rio’s comments about consumers booking cruises to far-flung destinations in 2021. 

The Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO was speaking about the company’s two upscale brands, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas, and the demand for Japan, Dubai and world cruises they are experiencing in the first and second quarters of 2021. 

Many poll results and commentaries would indicate that people are wary of taking long-haul flights or planning long vacations until a vaccine or cure for Covid-19 is found. But NCLH’s bookings indicate that there is pent-up demand for all kinds of travel and enough optimism to start planning those trips now.

“This notion that people aren’t going to want to cruise to faraway places or exotic destinations, what we’re seeing is defying that,” Del Rio said, adding that some Japan itineraries and world cruise segments are “sold out.”

Other upscale lines noted similar trends. 

Silversea Cruises chief marketing officer Barbara Muckermann said in a media call May 19 that expedition cruises such as Antarctica, the Arctic and the Galapagos are very popular for 2021, and that, overall, passengers are booking the same places next year they were planning to visit this year.

“So if they canceled a spring Mediterranean itinerary, they tend to book a similar itinerary,” Muckermann said. 

Also surprising, she said, is that Silversea has found that its older guests, ages 61 to 80, are among those most likely to rebook. 

“It is a little counterintuitive, but they are the travelers who want to go back first,” she said. 

Muckermann said she believed that guests were open to booking far-flung, expedition itineraries because they sail to uninhabited places and because they are bucket-list destinations. 

Travel advisors have been seeing similar trends. Signature CEO Alex Sharpe said that the consortium’s bookings also indicate people are not scared to book long-haul, exotic destinations, both in cruise and tour, where African safaris are popular. 

“I would say across the board for cruise, especially world cruise,” he said. “All of this is promising and continues to motivate us and our advisors as we push forward and think about the world opening up to our customers.”

Helping to push such bookings are very flexible cruise line cancellation policies and reduced deposits. 

Muckermann said that “the numbers magically turned from red to black” just after Silversea launched a reduced-deposit option, in which guests can book a cruise with $1,000 down, which they get back as a shipboard credit, along with an additional 10% discount. 

“They just needed a small nudge to say go,” she said. “We are hopeful that this is the beginning of a recovery.” 

Crystal Cruises has also found consumers are responding well to its reduced-deposit programs and flexible cancellation policies, according to Jack Anderson, a former cruise line executive who is currently consulting for Crystal. He said passengers are not only booking Crystal’s world cruise in 2021 but also in 2022 and 2023 as well as Asia and Middle East cruises. 

“People who love cruising are generally optimistic that we have a future that’s going to allow them to explore the world again,” he said. 

Close-to-home also popular 

The demand for long-haul is accompanied by an expected interest in destinations closer to home. 

Silversea said that one outlier in terms of 2021 is the popularity of British Isles cruises out of London for European guests, indicating those travelers are more comfortable cruising closer to home. 

Chris Austin, senior vice president of global sales and marketing for Seabourn, said that Alaska and Europe are both popular next year.

Brian Chima, of Chima Travel in Akron, Ohio, said that the destinations the agency is booking for 2021 are similar to 2020. He has found that people are much more comfortable with the idea of traveling in 2021, to the point where they will book a trip taking place in January 2021 but not December 2020.

“There is this idea that next year is fine,” he said. 

Chima said his clients are a bit slower to rebook some exotic locales right now, “due to fear.” 

“I’m seeing a lot of the comfort trips,” he said. “Cancun, Caribbean all-inclusives, European river cruises, a lot of Alaska cruises.”

But Chima said he does think there is enormous pent-up demand, judging by the popularity of YouTube travel videos, which he said have millions of more views than they normally would, showcasing places such as Iceland, Croatia and Bolivia.

“The desire for travel is at a peak right now,” he said. “People may not be booking it, they may not be locking in deposits and they might not want to travel right now or this month, but the desire for a trip is strong. I’ve never seen it stronger.”

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