The travel industry has been devastated by the impact of coronavirus and travel-related restrictions, but few companies have been scrutinized as harshly as cruise lines.
Despite the perception that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has inhibited the cruise industry’s ability to rebound from COVID-19, bookings have soared as demand for leisure travel has increased.
At the forefront of returning to cruising are travel agents, who have helped tourists decipher and understand the evolving health and safety protocols that cruise lines have been forced to implement by the CDC. .
For most advisers, the biggest issue is the ever-changing coronavirus advisories and restrictions, which can be different in every port. Customers have told agents they want a streamlined process that mirrors the hospitality, airline or car rental industries.
“The protocols have to go. They put the industry at a competitive disadvantage to the rest of the tourism industry,” said Chris Caulfield of CruiseOne. “Almost all other travel options don’t present the same hurdles as boarding a boat. The protocols add expense and stress to people’s vacations.”
From scrapping testing protocols to eliminating capacity limitations to ending mandatory vaccinations, travel counselors are hearing from their clients that the cruise industry needs to change before it makes a full-fledged comeback.
Another aspect of outdated protocols that agents would like to see changed is that some cruise lines still allow customers to cancel trips for any reason, leaving travelers confused about how to use future cruise credits. .
“I would like to see an end to the ‘cancellation for any reason’ policies that cruise lines had in place when travel started to reopen,” said Jeremy Hall of Cruise Vacations International. “These policies were generous and helpful in their day, but those days are now over and cruise lines need to revert to their standard cancellation and change policies.”
“Navigating the ever-changing rules on when and how endless future cruise credits can be used and whether or not agency commission is protected takes up valuable time that is needed for new bookings,” Hall continued.
With the cruise industry having already implemented so many changes over the past two-plus years, advisors are looking to build momentum and address some of the oldest issues, including streamlining fare packages to avoid nickel-and-diming customers.
Some agents have shifted to the all-inclusive resort model and would like to see more companies follow the lead of Princess Cruises, which just added a Premier package that includes unlimited Wi-Fi for up to four devices, premium drinks, photos, specialty restaurants and crew gratuities.
“I strongly believe it’s time to include gratuities in the cruise fare,” said Scott Lara of TheCruiseGenius.com. “Too many people withdraw their tips towards the end of the cruise, which punishes the crew. While in the short term prices would go up, I think avid cruise lines would embrace this change.
While travel agents would love to change many elements of today’s cruise landscape, the core value that all advisors and their clients share is their desire to have fun while on a trip.
Not all changes are negative, as most agents know that clients just want more time to party.
“I would love to see more late nights and late nights, especially in the Caribbean,” Caulfield continued. “Being able to experience the nightlife of an island is something that would attract new people to cruising. I love Bermuda cruises because I can enjoy the island without rushing.
The combination of technology and the lasting impact of the pandemic has formed a perfect storm of confusion for consumers, which is why they must book their trips with travel advisors.
As everything continues to return to some semblance of normality, agents will help push the cruise industry to make the improvements needed to meet ever-changing traveler demands.