When cruising does restart, die-hard fans will be first in line to board. But – for an industry that has long depended on new customers to fuel its growth – will those who have never cruised before be willing to embark?
Or will months of headlines about quarantines, positive onboard tests, and sensationalism about “floating petri dishes” scare off newbies?
Michelle Fee, CEO and founder of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, said first-timers won’t be the primary focus when cruising initially resumes.
“With the early signs of pent-up demand, and the fact that most ships will be sailing at a reduced capacity, first-time cruisers are not going to be the focal point – the obvious choice will be past passengers,” Fee said. “They know how safe it is to travel on a ship and will have the confidence to board, fully knowing that the cruise lines have taken extraordinary precautions. I will say, our 2021-2022 cruise business has a solid foundation, so it doesn’t look like we’re going to have a hard time filling ships again, once this pandemic is behind us.”
First-timers will start booking again once life returns to normal, she predicted.
“Once things settle down, and finally get back to more normal, a first-time cruiser will be just as attracted, if not more, than they were before,” Fee wrote in an email. “With all the new protocols and changes, ships will be even more attractive than even before the pandemic. From seamless embarkations, new crowd-less muster drills, sanitation at its highest and more – the rumors, myths and negative perceptions will all be proven wrong and go away.”
Of course, professional travel advisors will be key to the recovery.
“Travel advisors will need to focus on inspirational marketing along with presenting the health and safety protocols that the cruise industry is rolling out,” said Drew Daly, senior vice president and general manager of Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. “Advisors should become experts in the measures being taken as all consumers want to be informed as to what protocols are being implemented in all aspects of the vacation experience – including flights, pre- and post-cruise hotels, tours and onboard.”
Fee and Daly also said relaxed cancellation policies will reassure new-to-cruise clients.
“Yes, this has definitely helped our advisors close sales, so as long as there is fear of contracting the virus, vacation companies should extend their flexible cancellation policies,” Fee said.
Daly agrees: “I do think more flexible cancellation policies will allow consumers the peace of mind they need when planning their cruise vacations in the short and long term.”
Both said a campaign, perhaps led by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), is necessary to spread the word about safety measures.
“The industry absolutely has some damage control to do and needs to get the good word out about the stringent protocols the cruise lines will be following to keep cruising as safe as possible. We have been publicly speaking out and advocating for the CDC to back off of the cruise industry as it is negatively impacting consumer confidence in cruising and traveling in general,” Fee said. “Cruise Planners’ loyal customer base is already driving future travel sales. To reach new-to-cruise, we need the public perception to be safe to help our beloved industry to fully recover and rebuild. At Cruise Planners, we have not stopped our proactive marketing efforts, but have pivoted to a more supportive, educational and informative approach. One thing that has been wildly successful is our new Where2Next virtual series” for travel advisors’ clients.
Concluded Daly: “Yes, the safety and health protocols that will be implemented definitely need to be promoted heavily to consumers. Cruise lines, CLIA and travel agencies all need to collectively be talking about the measures and sharing what it looks like onboard. Consumers will want to see what life is like on board and envision how their experience will unfold.”
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