September 2016 is shaping up as a crucial booking period for 2017. With terror fears in Europe and Zika concerns in the Caribbean, there’s plenty of anxiety to go around. One distinct trend is 2017 bookings steering clear of problem regions.
“Europe is in a pivotal booking period,” observes Lee Rosenbluth of Rosenbluth Vacations. “Zika is an unknown for the Caribbean - if this spreads further in Florida or spreads further in the Caribbean, there will be a major impact.”
In terms of 2017, Europe is soft, but Alaska is already heating up. “Book now for Alaska or be disappointed” is the message Cruise Week heard from one Princess Cruises BDM doing road shows this month in tandem with agents in the Midwest. The message rings true as Cruise Week’s agent spot booking checks indicate August Alaska sales were mammoth in comparison to August 2015.
“Alaska was huge, probably twice what it was last year at this point,” one agent reported. “Europe is off, but people are doing early bookings elsewhere - Hawaii, Canada/New England, Panama Canal. It’s a flight to safety.”
And they’re booking top cabins. “There’s a positive loosening of the wallet, despite what we hear from all the politics - confidence despite everything we hear about the world falling down. On road shows, people are spending the big bucks, the likes of $10,000 and booking on the spot.”
A big positive for Alaska, agents say, is that it’s attracting more new-to-cruise clients than normally is the case with Europe. Overall, it appears to be a younger clientele going to Alaska. “With Alaska, we’re seeing a lot of smaller agencies that don’t sell a lot of cruise suddenly popping up with 15 to 20 on a group,” observed Princess Cruises BDM Jim McBride.
Agents are even citing 2018 groups for Australia/New Zealand as being strong. “The South Pacific wasn’t doing as well last year,” says one retailer.
Others suggest South America is getting a boost from the Rio Olympics. Mark Conroy, Managing Director of Silversea for the Americas, has noted an increased interest in Brazil, in part due to the Silver Cloud hosting the NBA athletes and other basketball stars for the Olympics and in part due to overall publicity that showcased the many beauties of Rio.
Holland America is adding a 7th ship to Alaska by redeploying the Oosterdam from Europe. But given the reports of August bookings, that is another smart move for the North American market - Alaska can handle the growth.