RCCL's Fain: All eyes on Wave bookings levels

NEW YORK -- Although plunging passenger demand in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks has eased, replaced by strong bookings and higher rates, booking totals during this year's Wave period will be a key determining factor in Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.'s 2002 performance, chairman Richard Fain said Jan. 8 in a conference call with analysts.

In a between-quarters "business update" intended to address post-Sept. 11 effects, Fain said year-end weekly data showed booked ticket revenue for first-quarter 2002 were 33% ahead of 2001 figures, although discounting was 7% higher than last year.

While lower than 2001 levels, pricing also is rebounding, as aggressive post-attack discounts have dwindled since November.

Also, new bookings over the last 10 weeks of 2001 were up 46% over 2000 and cancellations have returned to normal levels.

Booking patterns that shifted to close-in sailing following Sept. 11 also have returned to pre-attack patterns, said Fain.

The reversing trends come as Royal Caribbean absorbs capacity increases of 23.3% for first-quarter 2002 and 15.3% for the full year. Nevertheless, Fain said this year's Wave period would be "unquestionably an unusual one," adding, "we're pleased with the direction of the coming months, and I don't have any sense of pessimism, but we simply don't know what will happen."

Fain expects first-quarter revenue yields to be down 10% to 15% from 2001 and improve in each quarter thereafter.

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