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News Analysis: Volcano’s Booking Fallout?

April 22, 2010 By: Susan Young

regent seven seasWhile headlines of late have screamed with the plight of stranded air travelers worldwide, is the “volcano situation” impacting existing and future cruise bookings? Has it dampened Americans’ enthusiasm for cruising in Europe or other far-flung regions of the world this year?  

Travel Agent talked to three top cruise industry leaders for their personal perspectives and anecdotal evidence about bookings and cancellations. 

Mark Conroy, president, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, says “we have not seen any cancellations but have had some ‘what if’ calls [from consumers]. We actually have picked up some bookings on our Fort Lauderdale to Europe cruise on May 12.” Conroy says his biggest challenge right now is that so many agents are engaged in trying to get their clients home that they’re not out actively selling cruises.

“My feeling is that it’s one more thing for both the travelers and operators to worry about but assuming things get back to normal by the end of the week, it will fade quickly,” Conroy stresses. But he adds:  “What a year… floods in Peru, earthquakes in Chile, pirates in East Africa and now a volcano!”

From the trade side, Michelle Fee, CEO and co-founder, Cruise Planners, says: “Actually, we haven’t really experienced much of the chaos, although a few passengers were anxious about their upcoming trips.” She says if timing in life is everything, the cruise lines definitely had that on their side.

“With the European season not yet in full swing, hopefully we escaped the turmoil of re-booking or refunding those customers,” Fee notes. She hopes the worst is over and that agents won’t have to deal with the situation in the upcoming months: “With the economy making a recovery and the travel industry experiencing a healthy booking season, it’s the last thing we need to suffer through.”

From a small ship line’s perspective, Diane Moore, president of Windstar Cruises, tells Travel Agent she’s “definitely seeing a slowdown in bookings, we think partly as agents are coping with helping their clients who have been affected in their air travel.” But, she’s also hearing that consumers are just waiting this out to see when the air travel situation will clear up and if there is any indication the volcano will erupt more.

The good news is that Moore didn’t observe many cancellations beyond last weekend and is seeing very few cancellations for the coming weekend. “We were very fortunate that we had only Wind Surf sailing last weekend,” she notes, as one other ship is in drydock and another in the midst of a transatlantic crossing. All three ships turn around this week, though, in Lisbon and Athens.

“My feeling is that once things are ‘back to normal’ – flights departing as scheduled, the volcano quiet again – consumers will once again start thinking about their travel plans,” Moore says. Emphasizing that summer is just around the corner and people will want to travel, she hopes the lull is temporary.

Windstar, which serves many international guests as well as North American travelers, is also hearing from its European travel partners that their potential clients are simply not thinking about bookings right now – and Moore says this has affected those partners deeply. “Because of this, we are slowing down communications and offers for this week, but will be ready again quickly!”

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