When Disney Cruise Line revised the itinerary earlier this month for a Mediterranean cruise next summer, it changed some ports of call in the Western Med but dropped ports in the Eastern Med entirely.
Gone from the 12-day trip were stops in Greece, Turkey and Malta. In a letter to travel agents, Disney cited its desire to provide the “best possible guest experience.”
While it is only one cruise, the Disney revision continues the creeping erosion of cruise options in the Eastern Med. Driven by instability and security concerns, overnight stays are turning into late departures, late departures into regular calls and regular calls are being skipped for ports that don’t come with geopolitical question marks.
This comes on top of the pullback from the Black Sea triggered by the Russian-Ukrainian hostilities from 2014.
Together it means that, more than ever, cruises to the Med will be crowded into the Spanish, French and Italian ports in its western half.
And it comes as the travel industry, and cruise agents in particular, are anxious about the overall level of demand for Europe in 2016 in the wake of the recent Paris attack and warnings of new danger that seem to come weekly.
For many agents, river cruises in Europe have become a lucrative source of business in recent years, but that pipeline is threatened, especially on France’s Seine, which flows through Paris.
Ocean cruise companies are also cautious in their outlook. In comments about 2016 issued during a Dec. 18 conference call with analysts, Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said Carnival expects a favorable environment in North America “tempered somewhat by ongoing geopolitical and macroeconomic uncertainties, particularly for European markets and destinations.”
Most of the cruises sold by North American travel agents still depart from North American ports, so the first part of that statement is encouraging. But an outsized share of revenue and profits at many agencies comes from cruises in Europe, with the accompanying airfares and pre- and post-cruise arrangements.
Many agents are keeping a nervous eye on Europe for 2016, and hoping that their customers’ confidence in traveling overseas this summer will rebound as soon as possible.