Many Americans are planning a European vacation this summer

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Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said Europe has "come back very, very nicely."
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said Europe has "come back very, very nicely." Photo Credit: Norwegian Cruise Line

Several major cruise lines, travel agents and even Google all seem to agree that Europe is in high demand this booking season. 

Data from various sources indicate that interest in and bookings for Europe travel have been strong in the past six months. 

European cities made up five of the top 20 destinations people are searching this year on Google, according to an analysis by Google Flights. The platform found Paris, London, Rome, Athens and Lisbon made the list of top searches from January through mid-April. 

ForwardKeys vice president of insights Olivier Ponti said during the World Travel & Tourism Council's Global Summit in Manila, Philippines, that an analysis of booked flights as of April 5 for travel from July to August showed "a strong reactivation of transatlantic travel."

"This is the revival of city tourism and cultural tourism," Ponti added, pointing to demand for European destinations such as Italy.

In a Travel Weekly survey conducted in late April, 77% of travel advisors said their clients booked international trips to Europe in the past six months. That's ahead of also popular Caribbean and Mexico trips, which 70% and 68% of travel advisors say they booked, respectively. 

And travel advisors said in interviews that Europe bookings are hot right now. 

"Europe has just blown up," said Suzy Schreiner, a cruise and Europe specialist at Seattle-based Azure Blue Vacations.

Clients are not only eager to visit destinations on their bucket lists, she added, but are attracted to Europe because borders are open again after many were closed during the pandemic. 

Dennis Nienkerk, a luxury cruise specialist for Strong Travel Services in Dallas, said European sailings have been so strong that he's made about $120,000 in sales in the past two days. 

"Even if they've been before, they want to go back. They're willing to go through the whole Covid routine," he said. 

For a lot of clients, Europe is perceived as "something new," Nienkerk said. "They feel cooped up, and they just want to go somewhere; to many of them, Europe is more intriguing than the Caribbean, and most of them have already done Alaska."

Different realities for Royal Caribbean and NCLH

Royal Caribbean Group, however, said that demand for Europe in Q1 was not what it expected.

While European bookings now exceed 2019 levels for the cruise company, the market is "softer than what we had originally expected it to be," CEO Jason Liberty told investors during a quarterly earnings call this month.

He pointed to the war in Ukraine potentially affecting European bookings negatively this summer, but that isn't the only problem he saw. He added that the Covid-19 testing requirement to return to the U.S. could also be playing a factor, calling it the "last psychological point that weighs on the consumer to travel freely, globally."

Five days later, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio painted a different picture. In his company's Q1 earnings call, he said he was surprised by how strong the European market is. 

"I think Europe has come back very, very nicely," Del Rio said on May 10. "I was just talking to one of my brand presidents this morning, and he tells me that European source business is strong, and he can't believe how strong it is." 

MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato said he, too, has noticed increased interest among Americans for European cruises. 

"The demand is stronger lately," he said in an interview. While that demand is leading to good occupancy rates, that boost is due to cruisers using future cruise credits, he said, and was skeptical that growth in Europe interest hints to sustained demand. 

Johanna Jainchill contributed to this report.

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