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Promising signs of recovery for cruise industry boosted by CDC’s conditional sail order decision

The CDC’s decision to lift its cruise ban, rising traveler searches and impressive performance from a recent three-day sale signifies a hopeful return to cruising next year, according to new Expedia Group data.

The cruise industry is seeing the slow signs of recovery as interest for cruise trips has increased in recent weeks, for sailings next year. The decision by the CDC to let its no-sail order expire on October 31 in exchange for a conditional sail order supports the early signs of recovery that Expedia Group’s data is showing.

While cruise has been one of the hardest hit industries of the pandemic, encouraging search data suggests that there is clear pent-up demand from North American travelers eager to hit the waters as soon as possible. Global searches between April and September this year for cruises in 2021 have been gradually increasing month-on-month, with a noticeable month-on-month spike between August and September of +30%. In September, the most popular destinations for U.S. travelers searching for 2021 cruises were the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Europe and Alaska.

During a recent promotion run by Expedia Cruises and Princess Cruises, almost 9,000 passengers booked in just three days during the annual ‘3 Day Sale’ which ran from 24-26 September, for cruises in 2021 and 2022, further indicating strong traveler intent. Of those, a third were for trips to the Caribbean. These numbers were supported by Expedia Group data that showed the most popular month for U.S. travelers searching on its sites in September was for sailings in January 2021, a clear sign that travelers are keen to travel as early as possible next year.

Cruise lines are working hard to make considerable safety upgrades and onboard protocol changes to adapt to the current environment which may be contributing to the surge in consumer confidence.  The key focus areas include boarding screenings, onboard testing, daily temperature checks for all guests, dedicated onboard quarantine areas, enhanced HEPA air filtration systems and dining reorganization.

Cruise guests help boost local destinations and economies
The increased interest for cruise may also be having a positive impact on the wider industry, as guests search for lodging options as part of their trip. Alaska, for example, saw searches double quarter-on-quarter from U.S. travelers searching for lodging options during the third quarter of this year (July-September 2020) for stays in January and February 2021. In addition, in the last four weeks, U.S. travelers are increasingly searching for lodging options in Florida and Seattle for January stay dates, with an average week-on-week growth of almost 20% for each destination.2 An uptick of interest in these departure port hotspots highlights the importance and value of cruise customers in boosting local destinations’ wider travel industry and economy.

While a number of destinations are still being impacted by government restrictions and closed borders, and many cruise lines plan to maintain the ongoing voluntary suspension of cruise operations in the U.S. until the end of the year, the data from Expedia Group suggests demand will return once these are lifted.

Technology spearheads recovery by enabling automated and frictionless partner experience
Expedia Cruises recently launched the first phase of its onboarding of cruise partners to Expedia Group Partner Central, the complimentary B2B technology platform for partners that offers a suite of technology tools and data insights to optimize their performance. Originally built for Expedia Group’s lodging partners, the extension of the offering of Partner Central to cruise partners allows Expedia Cruises™ to consolidate disparate supply platforms and multiple tools into one platform, merchandising tool and agent tool. The groundbreaking move means that phone call inquiries and customer emails can be managed on the platform, and bookings can be automated where necessary. The phased rollout will continue into next year to bring Expedia Cruises’ 300 retail locations and 6,100 expert Vacation Consultants onto the platform, in addition to remote North American service agents and some Expedia Partner Solutions partners. 

“2020 has undoubtedly been one of the hardest years in history for the cruise industry, but these early signs of recovery are extremely encouraging. While we know there are still a number of obstacles facing the industry, we’re optimistic that demand is there, and the CDC’s recent announcement is an incredibly positive step forward”, says Matthew Eichhorst, Vice President, Global Cruise at Expedia Group. “Communication with our partners in this environment has been critical. We are working hard to ensure they have the tools and technology they need during this challenging time, and that travelers are aware of the additional support and cleanliness measures cruise companies are offering, both on our sites and via our cruise representatives and travel agents. We are confident the industry can emerge from this even stronger than it was before the pandemic.”

1 Cruise search data, Expedia Group sites April-September 2020, for cruises in 2021
2 Lodging search data, Expedia Group sites, July – October, for stays in Q1 2021

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She holds a Bachelor's degree in Communication & Mass Media from Panteion University of Political & Social Studies of Athens and she has been editor and editor-in-chief in various economic magazines and newspapers.