Are cruise lines seeing an increase in bookings with simpler COVID-19 protocols?

The world’s major cruise lines have been busy changing their COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements throughout August, with many changes taking effect in early September.

But are the new rules leading to an increase in bookings on major cruise lines?


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The answer is a resounding yes.

After making its own announcement about its easing of travel requirements, Carnival Cruise Line saw August 15 booking activity hit nearly double the level it was in 2019 on the same day.

“We previously disclosed strong occupancy projections for the summer, and our bookings through the end of 2022 have also been very strong,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. “With the continued alignment of protocols with other vacation choices, our customers are booking remaining 2022 inventory and getting a head start on planning for 2023. Mid-August is typically not a busy month for cruise bookings, but it’s clear that pent-up demand for Carnival hasn’t been met and guests are responding very favorably to our updated protocols.

Travel advisors have also reaped the rewards of the line’s booking boom. Scott Lara of primarily delivers Carnival and has seen a surge in interest. “I’ve seen a huge increase in calls since the COVID rules change…most of my customers now feel cruising is safer than three months ago.”

However, Carnival isn’t the only cruise line experiencing a boom in bookings.

NCL, Norwegian Cruise Line, Norwegian Prima
Exterior rendering of the brand new Norwegian Prima. (photo via NCL)

NCLH President, CEO and Director Frank del Rio commented on the boom during his second quarter earnings report on August 9: “These changes or protocols are significant and give us additional flexibility to achieve a larger cruise population, reduce travel friction and hassle for our guests, and diversify our itineraries. In fact, yesterday’s announcement was an instant catalyst, resulting in one of our three best booking days of the year.

Several NCLH cruise lines expect load factors, a key industry metric similar to occupancy, to increase to 80-85% in the next quarter, reaching over 100% in the second quarter of 2023 .

“Compared to the same period in 2018 for 2019 departures and considering capacity growth of around 20%, 2023 sales are 40% higher,” Del Rio continued.

Chris Caulfield, Owner/Cruise Consultant at CruiseOne, has seen NCLH’s increased bookings as a travel consultant: “My biggest sellers right now are Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, and that has only increased the interest in a cruise. Many of my existing customers were just waiting for the protocols to be dropped. Now that they have given up, they have booked or we are working on a date for them.

Another cruise line, Holland America Line, reached its best booking levels this year during August.

“In August, we are seeing our highest booking levels this year, including for people still wanting to sail this summer and fall. Customers are responding to our unique offers such as Save on Sunshine as well as our recently simplified COVID-19 protocols for sailings under 16 nights,” the line commented on TravelPulse’s information request. “We also continue to see strong interest from customers looking to avoid an international flight round-trip from US ports Holland America Line visits 91 countries and 225 round-trip ports from the US, more than any other cruise line on longer voyages.

New Amsterdam to Skagway, Alaska
Nieuw Amsterdam in Skagway, Alaska. (photo via Holland America Line)

Cheerie Dorris, owner of Cheerie Travel, LLC, an independent Avoya Travel Network agency, specializes in cruises and has seen renewed interest due to new changes as well as attractive summer promotions.

“I get a lot of inquiries from my customers for Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Virgin Voyages who have some great promotions that are attracting interest right now, like 2nd Guest 75% off Celebrity and Kids Sail Free on Royal Caribbean, Not single supplement for solo sailors on Virgin Voyages this month and 50% off second sailor and No Kids onboard, which is proving very popular with many adult travellers.

“Cruising is back, like all travel, and 2023 is almost certain to be a record high,” Dorris continued. “And consumers know prices will continue to rise because the demand is there, so if they’re planning on going on a cruise, now’s the time to book, before the cruise they want gets more expensive or worse… exhausted.”

The lines experienced something similar in international waters when the United States stopped requiring Americans to test negative for COVID-19 before returning to the United States. This time it’s bigger as it affects almost every region the lines operate except for routes that visit countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Cruise lines and cruise travel advisors are riding a wave of luck after vaccine and testing requirements changed. While it remains to be seen whether the booking boom will be short-lived or long-lived, it’s clear that more people are interested in cruising than ever before.

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