The Caribbean, historically, has been the mecca of cruising. This is why it is puzzling that over the past year, the Caribbean has witnessed a slide in demand. Was it because of a pervasive "been there, done that" attitude? Was the hot European market cutting into Caribbean sales? (It should be noted that the Caribbean isn't dead in the warmer months; in fact, many of the cruise lines have substantial inventory in the region.)
Whatever the reason, the Caribbean fizzled for the most part of the year, but, like the seasons, the cruise industry can be cyclical and all indications point to a healthy Caribbean winter season.
Over the past few months, many cruise analysts have rescinded their previous takes on the Caribbean cruise market. Most have agreed that pricing has started to climb upward, a sure sign that people, once again, are confident in cruising the Caribbean, especially as the calendar moves forward through the new year.
This may have been something the cruise lines knew all along. The Caribbean is the largest market for cruising, with about half of the world's passenger capacity deployed in the region.
On the Up And Up
The numbers are beginning to roll in, and the hardy statistics are foretelling. Carnival Cruise Lines (www.carnival.com) is synonymous with Caribbean cruising. It's where the line got its start and where it continues to thrive. This year, Carnival will deploy 18 ships (out of a 23-ship fleet) in the Caribbean, with 14 offering year-round service. Carnival will carry 2.9 million passengers to the region this year, the most in its 35-year history.
Carnival's numbers are backed up by the Cruise Lines International Association (www.cruising.org), which, according to its own statistics, states that the Caribbean is the most sought-after cruise destination by far.
The problem with the Caribbean has had nothing to do with issues of overcrowding or a yearning for something different; it has had everything to do with economic issues such as a dismal housing market. Economic factors are reasons people don't take Caribbean cruises, not because they are fed up with going there.
Speaking of demand, Carnival's bookings for the second half of 2007 and into 2008 show that demand is billowing, not bobbing. The same can be said for another Caribbean heavyweight, Royal Caribbean (www.royalcaribbean.com), which for fall and winter will have 16 ships positioned in the region.
Further helping the cruise lines' cause, many forecasters, such as WSI Corp., a weather information service, are predicting a tamer hurricane season than in the past, although at press time, Hurricane Dean was in the headlines.
Weather, although a less-discouraging factor than one might believe, can play into people's plans for booking cruises. The news that some prognosticators are down on this hurricane season, in turn ups Caribbean bookings. Discounts in the region are harder to find because space is filling up, and the lines haven't had the need to cut fares. —DE