Heading Into Wave Season, Travel Advisors Are Largely Positive

As the cruise industry heads into Wave Season, the annual sales promotional period with the best cruise deals and incentives for future voyages, Travel Agent asked several cruise-selling advisors and host or consortia leaders for insight. Will this year's "Wave" be the same or different than in previous years? 

What are they seeing for cruise trends, how are they marketing and communicating with clients, are clients using up those FCCs (future cruise credits) and how are cruise sales doing? 

Biggest Wave Ever?

Danny Genung, CEO of Harr Travel, a Nexion Travel Group member in Redlands, CA, says that to him “it feels like Wave Season started about six weeks ago. November 2021 has been our biggest month in business.”

Danny Genung, CEO of Harr Travel, a Nexion Travel Group member, Redlands, CA,  is shown at Magen's Bay in St. Thomas, USVI.
Danny Genung, CEO, Harr Travel in Redlands, CA, is shown at Magens Bay, St. Thomas, USVI. (Photo courtesy of Danny Genung and Nexion)

What selling best? Genung says it’s mostly the second quarter of 2022 and beyond, with summer 2022 and 2023 selling really well. He adds that most cruise lines started their promotions a few weeks ago, and that’s now continuing. Some also offered additional onboard credits for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, although he’s expecting upcoming Wave Season offers that will be similar to those in the past.

Genung also expects that the big Wave Season promotions will start a few weeks early this year and be available for the holidays. In his view, “we are thinking it will be the biggest 'Wave' ever. Cruising has been back in the U.S. since June and has happened safely for nearly six months now.  There is major pent-up demand that we are already seeing.”

As for cruise promotions, he tells Travel Agent that for his agency video promotion—especially Harr Travel’s YouTube channel—has been the most successful so far and he anticipates that to continue. But “we will approach Wave differently this year," says Genung. "Existing FCCs are a great reason to reach out, but we will put out mostly passive marketing as many people aren’t quite ready yet.”

Navigating Late 2021

Wave Season has definitely begun for Michael Consoli, franchise owner, Cruise Planners in Roswell, GA, who says, “We’ve been crazy busy with revenge travel and our clients’ pent-up demand—resulting in two of our highest sales months in years.”

“To be honest, what we’re doing that’s different is communicating what’s open and available for travel now,” he notes. “We’re sharing what’s available with our clients on a weekly basis through e-mail and video updates. It’s a conversation starter,” and then the agency helps those clients determine their comfort level for travel and fits them to the right cruise or destination.

Consoli says his clients’ needs in helping them find the best trip have changed since the pandemic began. “Part of our jobs now has become to help them navigate the protocols and limitations of certain destinations,” he says.

Has the COVID-19 variant news from South Africa had any impact on his sales? "I have had clients voice concerns but I don’t think it has slowed sales at all," Consoli says.

For clients with some concerns, he's telling them to wait and see what's known in a couple of weeks, as much isn't known yet about that variant. 

A Non-Traditional Wave

Christy Scannell, travel designer and franchise owner, Dream Vacations in San Diego, CA, says “I do not expect a traditional Wave Season this year,” adding that “we’re still trying to find our way out of this pandemic, and until that happens, we can't expect to see typical trends.”

Christy Scannell, vacation designer and franchise owner, Dream Vacations,  San Diego is shown with an art piece on Celebrity Apex.
Christy Scannell of Dream Vacations, San Diego,
CA, poses with an art piece on Celebrity
(Photo courtesy of Christy Scannell)

Something different for this Wave Season, says Scannell, is that her clients have those use-it-or-lose-it FCCs or future cruise credits that expire soon.

“I am combining those with current promotions to show them how they can get a cruise on the books, even if it is for 2023,” she says, adding that a lot of people need something to look forward to these days, and she’s happy to provide that.

In addition, she’s happy to have “forward thinking clients” who are spending more and traveling longer, and “I hope to continue to ride that wave.”

One trend? She’s seeing more interest in wish-list travel destinations such as Antarctica, particularly among retirees who have lost nearly two years of travel.

The Wave Is Building

One agency executive who reports an enormous increase in booking activity in the past month is Nora Blum, vice president of Travel Leaders Market Square Travel, located in Maple Grove, MN.

“Wave season has always been our busy time, and we are concerned that we will have more business than we can handle,” she acknowledges.

She believes that as long as upcoming travel opportunities are not shut down due to the latest variants of COVID-19, the industry will be back to 2019 levels of sales—and possibly even higher. Blum reports that long-time repeat cruisers are booking for 2022 and 2023, as “they are excited to get back to cruising.”

In addition, “those new to cruising are being enticed by some of the new pricing models that include the drink packages, gratuities, Wi-Fi and more,” she notes.

During the pandemic, her agency never stopped marketing, and Blum says that’s paying off now. “We continue to use e-mail as our first tactic to share promotions but have focused a lot more of our efforts on inbound marketing strategies,” Blum adds. She also says that the agency will put out mostly passive marketing as "many people aren't quite ready yet."

Are cruise lines doing similar promotions to the past Wave Season years (2019 and before), or different ones? She responds: “I’ve seen some very aggressive promotions." She believes it's a fantastic time to be cruising—particularly as some ships fully staffed but only handling a fraction of the guests. 

What About the New Variant?

But while many advisors agree that there's been much to cheer about in the last month or so, some also wonder about the impact of the new COVID-19 variant in southern Africa on consumer mindset for travel and cruising. 

Tom Baker, president and partner, CruiseCenter, Houston, TX with Silver Moon in the Mediterranean.
Tom Baker, president & partner, CruiseCenter,
Houston, TX
(Photo courtesy of Tom Baker)

For example, "after a bleak Black Friday booking sale for which I had very few inquiries all week, I am concerned," acknowledges Tom Baker, president and co-owner, CruiseCenter, a member of Signature Travel Network in Houston, TX. "Friday was really quiet," as that's when news about the new variant kicked in and "may have stolen the steam out of new travel bookings." .

"I spent more time repricing already booked Celebrity Cruises bookings for their Black Friday sale that included generous onboard credits, Baker adds.

His prediction? "I suspect we will see a slower season for a while given the great unknown and fast reaction travel stoppage from South Africa," he believes.

Until more is known about whether the current vaccine is effective or not against this new strain, some advisors including Baker believe some consumers may be more cautious. "I even noticed today while shopping that more people were wearing masks in Houston," he tells Travel Agent.  

Enticements for consumers to book? Baker says he still has a significant number of FCC’s unused by clients. While he's communicated with these FCC-holding clients repeatedly, many are still waiting to see how the pandemic plays out.

Some cruise lines have rolled those to 2023 for river cruising but "the big lines are only offering extensions through 2022," Baker says. 

On a positive note,  "I did receive an FCC booking request just tonight for a December 2022 Scenic Rhine cruise," he says. "That is hopeful."

Related Stories

World Travel Holdings Says Close-In Cruise Bookings Soar 40%

Caribbean Travel Marketplace Returns to In-Person Format For '22

Avoya Travel Announces Strategic Growth Investment From Certares

River Cruises Respond to Austrian Lockdown, Impact on Sailings