Agents said late last year they were expecting big growth in the Caribbean, but it remains to be seen if the recent spread of the Zika virus in the region will have an impact.
Travel agents in North America expect to sell more cruises this year, especially to popular destinations like the Caribbean and Alaska.
According to results of a quarterly survey released Wednesday by the Cruise Lines International Association, 83 percent of agents who responded said they expect to see their sales volume increase this year.
The majority of agents — 77 percent — said they also expect travelers to spend more on cruises this year. That would be a welcome development for leaders of the world’s largest cruise companies, who have been vocal about their desire to command higher fares and get passengers to part with more cash on ships.
Despite declines in the cost of international air travel, agents reported that the cost and inconvenience of traveling overseas was likely hindering more travelers from cruising in far-off waters. Sellers said they anticipate more growth in domestic trips, with 73 percent of agents reporting increases in Alaskan cruises and 52 percent noting increases in Caribbean cruise travel. Another 42 percent expected bookings in Canada and New England to increase.
Still, bookings of river cruises were expected to jump, as 71 percent of agents said they were seeing an increase in that category. For big-ship sailings, 66 percent said they noticed an uptick. Expedition sailings and boutique or yacht cruises were expected to see the least amount of growth.
Passengers seem to be making plans farther in advance. Nearly half of the respondents — 47 percent — said more customers are booking nine to 12 months in advance and 42 percent said more travelers are booking six to nine months ahead. The number of cruises being booked less than three months in advance was decreasing, according to a third of agents who responded.
Those booking habits will also be good news for cruise lines, which have been moving away from the long-standard practice of slashing prices to fill empty rooms in the weeks before a departure.
According to projections from cruise industry group, 24 million people are expected to cruise this year, compared to 23 million in 2015.
The most-mentioned trend impacting business was an increasing number of groups and families taking cruises together. The industry promotes multi-generational travel as a way to introduce younger travelers to cruising.
“Travel agents have consistently told us that, when consumers take cruises for the first time, they quickly become apostles for cruising in general,” CLIA acting CEO Cindy D’Aoust said in the report. “This survey affirms that the cruise industry is poised for growth among families, who are the future of cruising, and among travelers who are interested in convenience and the return on experience that cruising offers.”
One question not addressed in the online survey was Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that has spread throughout much of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Survey questions were distributed to a research panel of 700 agents in December, a month before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel warning in January about the illness that has been linked to birth defects. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization declared a global public health emergency.
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Photo credit: A dog sled team welcomes the Ruby Princess to the port of Juneau in Southeast Alaska. Princess Cruises