Cruise Passenger readers are ready to sail in 2021 – but they will travel differently and they have high expectations of what they want from cruise lines.

Our readership of over 400,000 Australian and New Zealand passengers – the biggest independent group in the region – have provided strong indicators of what they will be doing next year, once cruising and air travel returns.

A surprisingly high 65% said they were planning to book a journey in 2021, and 25 per cent said they would go ASAP. Just over 24 per cent said they would only go once there is a vaccine.

Asked what the most important factor influencing their booking would be, 44 per cent listed health and safety protocols on board ships would be the deciding factor, followed by flexible cancellation policies (19 per cent) and only 16 per cent nominated low fares.

This result suggests cruise lines won’t be able to lure back customers simply by dropping their prices, but will need to confront head on fears about safety and COVID-19.

Over half (55 per cent) have a cruise credit, demonstrating how resilient Cruise Passenger readers are when it comes to taking cruises.

But 44 per cent of them are unsure if they will sail with the same lines, meaning many will make changes to their habitual company.

Crew on Ponant with face shields

What will make them change? Size of ship will be a big factor, with a third saying they will look at smaller ships, and 10 per cent saying they would move to luxury lines (which also have smaller ships).

Where will they go?  No surprises to finding an enormous 80 per cent want to sail Australia/New Zealand, but Europe remains strong at 25 per cent and Asia at 22 per cent.  America is at 15 per cent.

And, despite the headlines and TV coverage, the industry received a round of applause for its handling of crisis with 56 per cent saying they did the best they could, while 20 per cent thought they behaved badly or very badly.

New Zealand
New Zealand

The results will be closely studied by cruise executives anxiously working out how to approach the market after a pause of six months or more.

But the results are certainly encouraging, with many of Australia’s cruisers still keen on holidays on the water once it is safe.

Their responses have been endorsed by what’s happening in the market place, where a number of small and luxury cruise lines have reported strong demand for cruising on itineraries over the next two years, with lines like Azamara citing booking records and interest in exotic destinations.

Lines like Viking, which have launched a river ship on the Mississippi have already sold out their 2022 itineraries and are seeing a strong demand for 2023.

Michelle Black, Viking’s Managing Director ANZ, said, “Since the launch of our new Ocean and River 2022/2023 itineraries and our new Explore the Viking Way campaign, we’ve seen a very positive uplift in demand across  both river and ocean cruising with our guests eager to secure their next cruise and have something to look forward to.

“Our market leading $500pp deposit and risk-free guarantee are also give our guests the confidence they are looking for in these times so they can feel safe to dream and plan.”

Azamara reportedly saw three times more bookings in the week after announcing it 2022/23 cruises than it did after last year’s release 2021/22 itineraries.

“Despite current global challenges, we are pleased to see that travel partners and cruisers have a strong interest in our new voyages,” said Azamara COO Carol Cabezas in a statement.

The boutique line, known for their immersive shore excursions and intimate ships, said that its British Open itineraries are the most popular for 2022 followed by the Suez Canal to Asia, Dubai World Cup, Scotland Intensive and Suez Canal Asia to Europe.

Credit: Tim Faircloth Oceania Regatta
Oceania Regatta, captured by Tim Faircloth

Upper-premium line Oceania Cruises also said in America, its latest upgrade sale was its most successful holiday promotion. It also said that almost half of the new reservations came from new-to-bran guests and less than 5 per cent of reservation utilised future cruise credits from cancelled sailings.

Oceania’s luxury sister brand, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, said that its newest world cruise, departing 7 January 2023, on the Seven Seas Mariner, broke its booking record “within hours,” doubling the bookings of its 2022 World Cruise in the same time period.

Set to be the line’s longest world cruise since 2011, the line also said it experienced “the longest waitlist for a world cruise in its history.”

The sailing will visit six continents, 42 countries, 72 ports and feature 11 overnight stays.

“In the past six weeks we have seen a positive upturn in booking activity for our two brands, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, across the Asia-Pacific region. Interestingly, more than 50% of reservations came from new-to-brand guests, however it remains clear that there is still strong pent-up demand for small-ship luxury travel from our loyal repeat guests,” said Steve Odell, Managing Director, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas, Asia-Pacific.

“We experienced unprecedented sales from our recently released Regent Seven Seas Cruises 2023 World Cruise, which shattered its booking record “within hours,” doubling the bookings of its 2022 World Cruise in the same period. This proves that travellers are planning far in advance.”

“Our Oceania September Upgrade Sale also created a spike in bookings, which are largely for dates in the second half of 2021 and for 2022. Top booking destinations by Australian and New Zealand guests include close to home destinations across the South Pacific and Asia.”