There's nothing quite like norovirus on a cruise ship in mid-December to put a damper on holiday bookings, particularly since the news media played it up big. That comes on the heels of Google announcing that the top search term overall for 2017 was Hurricane Irma, which directly impacted the cruise business.
The bad news continued this week with a horrific bus crash on an excursion in eastern Mexico involving passengers from two RCL ships. There were at least 12 deaths, including one Canadian.
And yet despite those setbacks, the cruise industry is not only succeeding, but by most accounts doing quite well. On the cruise giant’s Q4 earnings call, Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald summed it up neatly: "We finished the year strong."
Donald made his comments prior to the news about the bus crash. However, the business point remains that advance bookings and pricing for full year 2018 are ahead of the prior year for Carnival Corp. Since November, booking volumes for 2018 are running well ahead of the prior year, at higher prices.
"Carnival Corp. is firing on all cylinders," wrote analyst Robin Farley of UBS following the earnings call.
"CCL reported a strong 4Q with better-than-expected in yields and earnings per share," said Gregory Badishkanian of Citi Investment Research.
Donald made special mention of agents to Wall Street: "A credit to our tens of thousands of valued travel agent partners, who support all of our brands. It is through their collective efforts that we deliver such strong earnings."
Europe cruising continues to recover from a different sort of calamity. Two years ago at this time, Cruise Week suggested there was ‘a new normal’ for Europe cruise business following the Paris attacks and the removal of Turkey from itineraries. And it wasn't a good new normal.
But this month, a top agent producer tells us: "Europe ocean business in general is strong. River cruise is showing great recovery."
Financial analysts are also citing meaningful gains in the Med.
"It is our view that lower initial prices early in the 2Q18 Med window were intentionally geared toward building a strong base of business early and consistently raising prices as the sale date approaches, rather than cutting to fill late in the booking window to stimulate demand," wrote Rachael Rothman of Susquehanna.