Operators Get Ready as Cruises are Making a Comeback
Noticed something on the high seas? The big ships are back. After years of pandemic shutdowns, cruises are making a comeback, and this season’s sales prove it. During January’s peak ‘Wave Season’, cruise bookings were 81% higher compared to 2019. Global cruises, such as Oceania’s 2023 World Cruise, sold out within its first day of public sale, and even smaller river cruises saw a 425% year-on-year increase. It seems pent up desire for that big summer cruise has finally been unleashed now that travel restrictions have all been lifted. If 2023’s Wave Season is any sign, cruise operators may want to get ready for an even bigger year ahead.
The Cruise Comeback: 2023’s Rebound
Critics scoffed at the thought of the cruise industry making such a quick recovery. After all, the industry had all but collapsed after 15 months of shut down by the CDC during the height of the pandemic. Only in late June of 2021 were ships allowed to sail under strict conditional orders. Even then, the industry had a steep hill to climb. Many thought it would be years, well into 2025-2026, before the public felt safe to cruise again.
When the CDC finally removed its travel warnings, lifting all restrictions for cruise travel in 2022, bookings saw a massive surge almost right away. Pent up demand from travelers whose cruises had been delayed or cancelled during the pandemic, along with a wave of new bookings, saw many cruise operators bringing in sales revenues exceeding those of 2019.
The Royal Caribbean Group experienced seven of their biggest booking weeks in history since November, making this their biggest ‘Wave Season’ on record. Even inflation and inevitable price increases have not lessened demand. Caroline Hay, of the Trevello Travel Group, noted that this Wave Season they have seen double-digit growth in their cruise division. One of the biggest success stories was from Silversea, whose luxury cruise line saw 15% more bookings in the first weeks of 2023 than it did throughout the entirety of 2022.
What Cruise Travel Will Look Like in 2023 and Beyond
There’s no doubt that cruises are making a comeback. Recent research by HundredX shows a faster rebound than other travel segments such as hotels, airlines, and car rentals. Their survey of over 35,000 travelers showed that intent to cruise has moved consistently higher since January 2023. Interest in cruise travel has experienced a 7-9% year-to-date increase, especially for cruises over school breaks and summer vacations.
A survey by AAA also found that 52% of U.S. adults are more likely to consider a cruise vacation now than prior to the pandemic. Much of this rise in consumer confidence, according to AAA, is due to the extensive safety and health measures now adopted by cruise lines.
This is shown by an increase in cruise related searches online. A 2023 web report showed a major increase in web traffic for major cruise lines. Virgin Voyages led the way with a staggering 318% increase in web traffic year-over-year and the five leading cruise operators saw a 55% overall growth in online bookings throughout January 2023.
This indicates a strong demand that has driven higher bookings this Wave Season and could well drive even higher demand next year. In fact, the cruise industry is projected to see double-digit growth well into 2026, spurred by the debut of 19 new ships in 2023 alone, potentially bringing in 38,000 added berths and 2 million new cruisers.
The industry could also look a little different than previous years as cruisers show a wider preference for different travel experiences. River cruises, for instance, and smaller cruise ships, became popular during the early days of the industry’s recovery. They were often viewed as a more intimate travel choice for couples and seniors, and a safer alternative for those wishing to avoid the crowded big ships. Conversely, after years of having travel restricted, there’s a definite boom in ‘revenge travel’, or people seeking, and willing to spend big, on a once-in-a-lifetime trip. This is seen in the increased bookings for longer world cruises to exotic far flung destinations such as Egypt, India, and Vietnam.
Making Sure Next Wave Season is a Success
No doubt, the next Wave Season, which runs from January until April, is going to be busy. This year, many cruise lines reported call volumes well above normal. Lindblad Expeditions, for instance, shattered its previous records for inbound call volumes, which were 30% higher than average. In fact, a single day, Jan 3rd, saw a 14% rise in bookings over earlier Wave Seasons.
With such high contact volumes, it may be best to bring in a CX partner that can supply the necessary seasonal agents, or even steady state agents. They can also help you find new efficiencies that can manage contact center costs. But it’s more than providing agents. The right partner can supply you with the best talent ‘fit’ to deliver that outstanding, one-of-a-kind travel experience that will set your brand apart.
With more cruise options than ever, customers will need tailored recommendations from knowledgeable agents. This may mean a reimagining of the booking agent as more of a travel agent, with the ability and skill to supply hyper-personalized offers and craft unique bespoke vacations.
There is also another challenge facing the cruise industry. That is, consumers' increasing interest in environmental sustainability. Unfortunately, the cruise industry has come under fire recently by environmentalist groups. According to a recent study by the Marine Pollution Bulletin, a large cruise ship can have a carbon footprint greater than 12,000 cars and the total amount of waste it produces can exceed a ton per day.
However, the cruise industry has taken significant steps in recent years to become greener. In April, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) announced a series of sustainability commitments, including a target of net-zero carbon cruising by 2050. This includes looking at replacing traditional fossil fuel burning ships with electric ones or those fueled by liquified natural gas, which produce lower carbon emissions.
The public, though, needs to be made aware of these progressive measures, and that’s where the right CX partner comes in.
How itel Can Help You Ride the Next Wave Season
As a Caribbean-born company, we take environmental concerns very much to heart, as we often see the effects of industrial pollution firsthand. With itel, you can be proud to partner with a CX provider that is committed to sustainable practices and protecting the environment.
Our ‘No Plastic is Fantastic’ initiative, organized through our 4Ys Foundation, is committed to removing all single-use plastics from our company sites, starting with plastic water bottles. To date, we have eliminated over 160,000 plastic water bottles and kept 4 tons of plastic waste out of our waterways. Additionally, our volunteer-led beach cleanups help remove litter and waste from over 2,000 meters (about 1.24 mi) of beachfront each year.
We are also an award-winning CX outsourcer with a history of serving some of the world’s biggest travel brands. Our vast footprint covers some of the cruise industry’s main destinations, such as the Caribbean and Latin America, and we can offer travel customers a unique warmth and hospitality gained from a rich legacy in tourism. Our agents have the skills, knowledge, and experience, plus the multilingual capabilities, to offer cruisers the best interactions through a variety of channels, from inbound customer care and reservations, to serving VIP guest lines, or supporting online bookings.
From the time they book to the duration of their stay, we can ensure that a guest’s cruise experience is seamless, enjoyable, and most of all, memorable.
Now is the time to prepare for next peak season. Learn more about how we support Travel Brands, then contact us to get started.