NEW YORK -- Early results suggest that this year's Wave season --
traditionally cruising's heaviest booking period -- is breaking
favorably for cruise operators.
At least one major cruise line already has set a booking record
during the Wave period, and cruise sellers around the country are
reporting heavy call volumes.
Cruise analysts say improved pricing strategies have positioned
suppliers for a strong 2001 Wave period after a disappointing
season last year.
January's success stories include Carnival Cruise Lines. As
previously reported, Carnival in the first weeks of the month set
two booking records that eclipsed the previous one-week high set
Carnival booked 47,921 individual passengers on a net basis
(bookings received minus the number of cancellations during the
same period) from Jan. 2 to 7 and 52,334 net-basis passengers from
Jan. 8 to 14.
Those figures represent 14% and 25% increases, respectively, over
the previous high of 41,899 passengers booked on Feb. 7 to 13,
In fact, the record totals were produced over a shorter booking
The first week of January 2001 was a six-day week because New
Year's fell on a Monday.
Both the comparable week in 2000 and the previous record week of
Feb. 7 to 13, 2000, were seven-day weeks.
Also, Carnival's 2001 fleet capacity is 11.4% higher than during
the same period in 2000. Thus far, the line has booked 28% more
passengers than during the same period in 2000.
"It is encouraging to consider that we are still in the middle
of January, and the cruise industry's historical booking wave does
not normally peak until several weeks down the road," said Bob
Dickinson, Carnival's president.
To date, cruising's other major lines have yet to report
Wave-season booking numbers.
At press time, Royal Caribbean Cruises was in a "quiet period"
while preparing fourth-quarter 2000 results and would not comment
on booking totals.
A Princess Cruises spokeswoman said, "Bookings are solid, and we
are pleased with the way they are proceeding at this point," but
declined to give details.
Officials at Norwegian Cruise Line said Wave period booking
information was not yet available.
But several cruise-selling agents around the country are
reporting high call volumes and solid booking totals.
"If the last few weeks are any indication, it's going to be a
good year," said Mike Wild, vice president of cruise marketing at
Travelbyus, a 2,200-member consortium.
Added Charlie Funk, owner of Just Cruisin' in Nashville, "We've
had a heavier call volume than last year, and bookings are up about
The positive early results are an encouraging trend for the
Wave season, generally regarded as the period from Jan. 1 to
March 31, is widely viewed as an portent of the year's booking
pattern. A strong Wave period is considered the precursor to a
successful 12 months, particularly for mass-market and premium
The positive early results are particularly welcome this year,
as cruise fleets continue to grow at an unprecedented pace.
Cruise capacity is expected to climb by about 8% this year,
according to Cruise Lines Industry Association president Jim
Godsman, led by cruising's "Big 3" (Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean
and P&O Princess Cruises), which collectively will introduce
six ships in 2001, representing 12,612 berths.
First European Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Radisson Seven
Seas Cruises, Renaissance Cruises, Royal Olympic Cruises and
Silversea Cruises also will introduce ships in 2001.
This year's early Wave-season success is due in part to new
pricing strategies, according to cruise analysts.
"We believe the major operators are much better positioned vs. a
year ago," said Scott Barry, a cruise analyst at Credit Suisse
Barry said last-minute discounts to fill weak sailings were
prevalent last year, actions which "degraded the integrity of
pricing in the marketplace," cutting profits for operators and
Retailers confirmed Barry's analysis.
"Last year, our passenger count was up, but our sales volume was
down," said Funk of Just Cruisin'.
To avoid the same phenomenon in 2001, "the major cruise
operators took pricing lower last year to pull even with the demand
curve, opened 2001 sailings earlier than ever and attempted to
build a strong base of business prior to the Wave season," said
Funk agreed. "The pricing is firmer this year," he said.
"We indicated in the latter part of 2000 that it appeared our
pricing had bottomed out," said Dickinson of Carnival. "And we were
approaching the new year with a very realistic and attractive
"It looks as if consumers have gotten the message on cruising's
phenomenal value," Dickinson added.
Indeed, cruise passenger growth remains strong despite the
influx of new berths. Although complete-year figures aren't yet
available, CLIA's Godsman said the figure should be close to 6.9
Officially, passenger embarkations grew 15.7% during the first
three quarters of 2000, said Godsman, who added, "Passenger growth
should parallel capacity growth in 2001."
"The fact that volume growth continues to outpace capacity
growth is a testament to the cruise product's elasticity," said
Barry, "and an encouraging sign that a normalized booking curve can
be reestablished this year."
Two factors are driving the heavy Wave-season activity, said
One is the harsh winter weather that gripped the East Coast and
Midwest in early 2001. The second, he said, is "increased consumer
and travel agent awareness of the cruise product's strong value