|Holland America Line's Westerdam is shown in Glacier Bay, Alaska. // Photo courtesy of Holland America|
The Alaska cruise season kicks into high gear this week. So what's the interest by U.S. consumers? During the last week of April, 53 travel agents and travel agency owners across the country took a 10-question "Trends, Challenges & Opportunities" survey created by Travel Agent magazine.
The goal was to show cruise sales trends for 2016. Results? Alaska cruise sales appear to be booming. More than 54 percent of survey respondents said Alaska cruise interest by their clients is stronger this year than a year ago.
Strong Alaska Interest
“We are booking an exorbitant amount of Alaska cruises,” reported Lois Sposa, owner, Embrace the World Travel, LLC, an independent agency with the Avoya Travel Network, Sarasota, FL.“I think this is the alternative to Europe,” which some agents say is less popular this year out of fear of world events or, alternatively, airfare costs.
“Interest in Alaska seems to be up,” noted Pris Phillips, an independent vacation specialist, Cruises Inc, Columbia, SC. “Clients are commenting that it's something they have previously put on the back burner, but are now ready to explore.”
|Cultural program for Alaskan cruisers // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Also reporting strong Alaska sales this year is Diedre Bloom, another independent affiliate of Avoya Travel, Richland, WA: “People are choosing to cruise closer to home. Flights are cheaper too.”
According to the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, 30 large cruise ships are scheduled to call in Alaska, carrying a projected one million visitors.
In our survey, nearly 30 percent said Alaska bookings are, at least, similar to what they were last year. So nearly 84 percent of agents are experiencing increased or similar sales interest for Alaska cruises.
"Most of my clients are not traveling overseas at this point as they are too concerned about world events,” said Janet DeVito, a franchise agency owner, Dream Vacations, Freehold NJ. “Many feel Alaska is safe.
However, 6 percent of respondents reported less Alaska interest by clients than the previous year. “Unfortunately, I do not get much interest from my client base for Alaska,” said Jo Ann Williams, a vacation specialist, Cruises Inc., Manassas VA. Instead, Williams' clients are opting for the Caribbean, which “is hot in general – clients just want white sand and blue waters.”
Still, many agents see opportunities in the Great Land this summer. Shari Marsh, owner and agent, Cruise Holidays in Raleigh, NC, is selling many multi-family trips to Alaska this year.
New for 2016
Cruisers -- even repeat cruisers who've been to "The Great Land" previously -- can sail in on myriad ships and find new features ashore. Among the ships newly positioned to Alaska for 2016 are Crystal Cruises' Crystal Serenity, Royal Caribbean International's Explorer of the Seas, Princess Cruises' Island Princess, Holland America Line's Maasdam and Nieuw Amsterdam and Regent Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Mariner.
Alaskan Dream Cruises is launching a new fleet in June 2016, while Ponant's Le Soleal will be calling at such new ports such as Barrow, Elfin Cove, Endicott Arm, Alert Bay, Petersburg, Misty Fjords and Icy Bay. Crystal Cruises' new 32-day Northwest Passage voyage travels from Anchorage and features calls at Kodiak, Dutch Harbor and Nome before continuing to Canada, Greenland and New York City.
Cruise ship passengers will disembark this month at a newly built floating dock, Tlingit-styled Adventure Center and Duck Point Smokehouse restaurant at Icy Strait Point, an Alaska Native-owned cruise destination on Chichagof Island near Hoonah, Alaska. Juneau also has a new Panamax-ship dock, the first of two planned to handle larger vessels.