River and ex-UK among booking trends
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River and ex-UK among booking trends

The results from the third of our Future of Cruise surveys

Small-ship expedition, river and ex-UK cruise are among emerging trends from British customers booking cruises, new Cruise Adviser research reveals.

In the third of our Future of Cruise surveys, we asked readers to provide a snapshot of bookings and trends during this difficult time for the industry.

Readers noted a trend towards smaller ships, including those on river, as well as a greater proportion of balcony cabins booked.

However, many readers revealed that customers are waiting for further clarification about safety measures and changes in government advice before booking.

The research reveals the scale of the issues facing the industry. More than half of readers surveyed (53 per cent) said they did not make a sale in July, with 43 per cent reporting a month-on-month decrease in the number of sales. The majority (50 per cent) made the same number of bookings as in June – with only 7 per cent reporting an increase.

Almost two-third of the bookings that have been made are for summer 2021, with a quarter (24 per cent) later than this. These bookings are almost exclusively by past customers, with readers reporting that they make up 85 per cent of sales.

As we have reported in the past, many agents remain occupied by processing refunds and rescheduling cruises. In the survey, agents told us they want greater flexibility from cruise lines in arranging refunds, more direct contact, as well as offers and promotions for the 2020/2021 season.

Time and time again, agents asked for more information about safety protocols, and reported on the feedback from customers, with safety unsurprisingly the most frequent concern.

One reader wrote: “They are very concerned about health and safety on board, and if the cruise experience will change.” Readers noted that customers are concerned that with some features – such as buffets – not available the overall experience will be impacted.
Customers asked how social distancing would work in theory, getting insurance and whether or not ships would be able to dock in the event of an outbreak.

On July 9, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) released a statement advising against cruise ship travel – severely denting consumer confidence in the holiday type and impacting sales, as demonstrated above.

At the time, the government was seen to be reinforcing the message that the cruise industry is not part of the travel corridor system, which has allowed international travel to recommence for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

It later clarified its advice around the much-criticised ban, allowing Brits to take river cruises for the first time in months. The advice now reads: “Cruise ship travel means staying overnight for at least one night on a sea-going cruise ship with people from multiple households.

“Our advice against cruises applies to international travel on a ship that is exclusively for pleasure or recreation, providing overnight accommodation and other leisure facilities such as entertainment venues or swimming pools. Our advice does not include ferries or privately-rented boats.”

It is therefore no surprise to learn that almost 80 per cent of respondents said that they agree or strongly agree with the statement that the “government has not done enough to protect the travel industry”.

Prior to the change in advice, the industry was beginning to see signs of a slow recovery, spurred on by past guests as we reported in July. In the second of our surveys, for the month of June, 38 per cent of readers reported an increase in bookings, while 44 per cent reported no change from May; 18 per cent reported a decrease.

In that month, a quarter of readers made between three and six bookings (26 per cent), while 15 per cent made more than seven. In the first of our Future of Cruise surveys, we reported that 40 per cent of agents saw an increase in bookings in May – with 11 per cent of readers recording a fall in the number of bookings made, compared with April.

Although FCO advice remains the same, there have been some positive development since the period in question, with some European lines beginning cruises again.

Although many cruises lines are not scheduled to sail this autumn, some continental river lines – after being given the green light by French and German governments – have resumed cruises, with new safety measures in place. With many European destinations included on the travel corridor’s list, suddenly it is possible for Brits to explore the continent’s waterways.

Significantly, MSC Grandiosa has become the first ship from the MSC Cruises fleet to welcome guests back on board as the line resumed sailings.

The line said that guests began embarking MSC Cruises’ flagship in the port of Genoa, Italy arriving at the cruise terminal according to their allocated time slots and followed the new universal screening procedures according to the company’s health and safety protocol.

This includes a temperature check, medical review of a health questionnaire and an antigen Covid-19 swab test for every guest prior to boarding. After completing these steps and having received the results of the test while in the terminal, guests that were fit to travel then embarked the ship according to the new health and safety procedures, which includes sanitation of both hand and hold luggage.

While the ships will initially only welcome guests who are residents in Schengen countries, meaning Britons will have to wait, the move remains a positive step for cruise lines. After cases of Covid-19 were reported on ships that had restarted – such as Hurtigruten’s expedition ship MS Roald Amundsen – representing a significant setback for the industry.

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