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News Analysis: Rumblings of a European Cruise Slowdown?

May 24, 2010 By: Susan Young

Are volcanic ash, Athens riots and BA's strike having an impact?

While I certainly don’t see agents yet jumping up and down about a loss of European cruise business this summer and fall, I am beginning to get a sense of slight uneasiness from both cruise executives and a few agents about all the gyrations going on across the pond. 

Are American travelers actually starting to avoid European cruises as a summer and fall vacation option given the slew of recent travel woes – volcanic ash causing flight delays or cancellations; British Airways' labor woes; and riots in Athens?

Just last week, several lines changed calls from Piraeus, Greece to other regional ports to avoid the political demonstrations clients might encounter within the Greek capital city.

Anecdotal evidence suggests there is, at least, "a touch" of industry concern beginning to surface. Certainly cruise lines have put a huge investment into the European cruise theater this year, transferring ships from other parts of the world as Americans have discovered the Baltic and the Mediterranean regions as great summer cruise vacation playgrounds. River cruise lines too have invested millions in new vessels launching this year.

So when an executive from a well-known ocean cruise brand confidentially tells me— as one did last week but “not for attribution”— that his line is beginning to see a slight softness in European bookings from the combination of recent bad news events in Europe, my ears perked up.

Is a trend developing? Are European bookings really taking a hit? I asked a few agents for their front-line business perspective.

From one agency’s perspective, “we have not seen any changes,” says Carrie Finley-Bajak of Cruise Holidays of Mission Viejo, CA.

Similarly, June Sloane, a luxury travel advisor, Protravel International of Boca Raton, FL, said her bookings are high, she has several European cruises booked this summer, and hasn’t seen any cancellations. “But I am offering ‘volcano insurance’ to clients,” she notes.

But another agent is seeing impact. “The complications with traveling to Europe are becoming so numerous that my clients are expressing concern,” notes Margie Jordan, CEO, ASAP Travel, Jacksonville, FL. “Those with families are avoiding it all together.”

She says her single travelers haven’t completely ruled out a European cruise or vacation but are exploring options should a problem arise during travel.

Just a month ago, Royal Caribbean International told analysts that effects from the volcanic ash situation experienced in the first quarter will create a financial hit of less than $.05 per share and that it didn’t appear to have a major effect on cruise bookings this summer as consumers were viewing the situation as a one-of-a-kind event.

But things have changed with the ash problem repeatedly causing on-again, off-again, on-again flight changes.

The picture isn't clear. So we want to hear from you. Are your clients concerned? Are they shying away from a European cruise vacation? Or, are they viewing a European cruise as the perfect vacation this summer or fall? Let us know your thoughts below!

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