As ships sat empty during winter 2020, the promotional period known as Wave season also dried up. This season, deals, like sailings, have returned to the rivers.
While Wave season traditionally kicks off closer to January, I wanted to check on which promotions advisors and clients could expect from their preferred river cruise lines and when they might begin to see them.
Many companies across all sectors will wait until Black Friday to unveil their juiciest deals, but some cruise lines have announced early promotions to entice cruisers to book now. I spoke to executives across agencies and cruise lines about what we can expect to see with the return of Wave season.
Wave deals are available now, but bookmark Nov. 26
No need to wait for Wave proper -- some lines are already advertising their campaigns. Scenic Group has rolled out its Discover the World promotion, with up to $2,400 off per couple on Emerald Cruises' river departures and up to 35% off its yacht product when booked by Dec. 15. Scenic Cruises has also announced a Wonder Savings Event with up to 25% savings on all 2022 and 2023 Europe and Southeast Asia river cruises, with an additional 5% bonus savings if paid in full by Dec. 15 (or 12 months out for a sailing in 2023). The early campaign is "in response to current travel trends indicating increased demand for small-ship cruising in 2022 and 2023," according to Scenic's statement.
Crystal River Cruises is touting its Best Available Suite offer on 2021 and 2022 sailings when booked by Nov. 3 (an offer likely to be extended). It's a deal of particular interest to solo cruisers, as the Crystal Mozart will feature the line's first dedicated solo suites in 2022.
Avalon Waterways is providing qualified bookings with free airfare plus up to $1,000 in savings per couple on select Europe sailings in 2021 and 2022 until Jan. 3.
"Based on record bookings for 2022, we anticipate a very strong Wave season. And while Avalon Waterways' sales look great for next year, travel advisors and their clients can rest assured that there are still staterooms available on most sailings with great deals, serving as 'book now' incentives," Pam Hoffee, managing director of Avalon, told me.
"Further, our customer care team is fully staffed to avoid long hold times during this busy selling season. In terms of future promos, we are keeping a close eye on Black Friday as a good indicator for Wave season success, and we will extend and/or update traveler offers based on a plethora of factors, including demand and stateroom availability."
According to Drew Daly, senior vice president and general manager of Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., "Now is the time where consumers can find the best options for cruises in 2022. As demand increases, the inventory will decrease and pricing will go up. Booking now will provide customers with the best options for pricing, cabin availability, and it will give them the best value for their vacation."
Black Friday, which falls on Nov. 26 this year, is an indicator of cruise demand in recent years. "Of course, to help fill the ships there will be even more compelling offers at certain times whether it be Black Friday or Cyber Monday," Daly said.
On U.S. rivers, promotions will coincide with milestones
Ramping up for the unveiling of its four renovated and renamed paddle-wheelers in March, "American Cruise Lines will have significant savings across every itinerary during Wave season, with a particular focus on our spring 2022 cruise dates," David Luxeder, director of marketing for American Cruise Lines, said.
At American Queen Voyages, COO Shawn Bierdz told me: "Next year is one of our company's milestones." 2022 marks its 10th anniversary and the year it relaunches its lakes and ocean vessels; it's also the year of the anticipated debut of its first expedition ship, the Ocean Victory.
"We are planning a Wave season program that celebrates these milestones, showcases our all-inclusive value proposition." He added that the company looked forward to working with agent partners to promote the offerings.
Bierdz also said that the line was seeing high demand to sail now with its current promotions, and that 2022 availability is already reduced "as travelers yearn to discover North America and cruise close to home."
Wave will be a moving target for many lines in 2021
For many river lines, big end-of-year or early-2022 promotions will depend on sales trends. As of press time, a preview of Wave season deals was unavailable from some lines, such as Viking and Uniworld.
Riviera Cruises said that details on any Wave season deals would likely be shared in December for cruises booked starting in January, and that the line would likely skip a Black Friday promo this year.
Michael DaCosta, CroisiEurope's general manager of North America, said that the line's early-booking discount of 15% off for all 2022 European departures had been extended until the end of the year and will be replaced by Wave promotions in January.
"While these won't be confirmed until January, you can expect last-minute specials on faraway destinations including the Red Sea, the Canary Islands and Africa; the return of CroisiEurope cruises on the Mekong River, with special offers on cruises from Ho Chi Minh City [Vietnam] to Siem Reap [Cambodia]; family cruise promotions such as Kids Travel Free on select European cruises; waived single supplements ... and more."
So when will Wave become a tsunami of savings?
It's tough to say. If travel plans are rigid, advisors might encourage booking now for best availability. If clients are keeping options open, waiting until after the Black Friday promos have been released might be smart.
After missing many celebrations with family and friends over the past two years, there seems to be a greater appreciation for doing things "now" and catching up on the important "to-do travel list," said Kristin Karst, co-owner and executive vice president of AmaWaterways. "This desire to slow down and take the time to reconnect with the world by sharing an intimate river cruise experience with those you care about most is driving demand for special experiences like the Christmas markets and holiday cruises, as well as for longer cruises."
"As with any year, Wave season has been spread out from one specific time frame," Daly told me. "For many years, February and March have provided consumers with the best offers, pricing and deals when booking. What we see now is a more consistent offering of promotional deals to incentivize consumers to book today. The big challenge for 2022 will be space. As more capacity returns, the cruise lines are going to be competitive with promotional offers to ensure they fill the ships."
Concerns about another travel slowdown due to the delta variant of Covid-19 seem to be mitigated by river's early-booking savings and flexible cancellation and rebooking policies.
"The promotional landscape for travel has never been better," Daly assured me. "We are seeing cruise lines and land wholesalers coming to the table with more deals and competitive offers to entice consumers to plan for their next vacation and book today. Prices are only going to go up. Once inventory reduces, pricing will start to increase. Cruise lines are getting creative with more inclusive offers, agent incentives and consumer promotions that will drive more bookings to their brand."