Travel consultants reveal needed changes in the cruise industry

The travel industry has been hit by the impact of the coronavirus and travel restrictions, but few companies have been as scrutinized as cruise lines.

Despite the perception that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has hampered the cruise industry’s ability to recover from COVID-19, bookings have surged as the demand for leisure travel rises.

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On the front lines of returning to sailing were the travel agents, who helped tourists decipher and understand the sophisticated health and safety protocols the CDC was forced to implement.

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For most advisors, the biggest problem is the ever-changing coronavirus warnings and restrictions, which can be different at each port. Customers tell agents they want a streamlined process that reflects the hotel, airline, or car rental industries.

“Protocols need 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 do not face the same hurdles as boarding a ship. Protocols add expense and pressure on people’s vacations.”

From dropping testing protocols to eliminating capacity restrictions to ending mandatory vaccinations, travel consultants hear from their clients that the cruise industry must change before a full return.

Another aspect of outdated protocols that agents like to change is that some cruise lines still allow customers to cancel their trips for any reason, leaving travelers confused about how to use future cruise credits.

“I would like to see the end of the ‘cancel for any reason’ policies that cruise lines put in place when travel first started,” said Jeremy Hall of Cruise Vacations International. “These policies were generous and helpful in their days but those days are now gone and cruise lines need to go back to their standard cancellation and change policies.”

“Navigating the ever-changing rules about when and how endless future cruise credits can be used and whether or not agency commission is protected takes valuable time required for entirely new bookings,” Hall continued.

With the cruise industry already implementing many changes over the past two years or more, advisors are looking to continue the momentum and address some long-standing issues, including streamlining pricing packages to avoid nickel and diet customers.

Some agents have looked at the resort’s all-inclusive model and would like to see more companies follow Princess Cruises’ lead, which just added a Premier package that includes unlimited Wi-Fi for up to four devices, premium drinks, photos, specialty dining, and crew perks.

“I firmly believe it’s time to include tips in the cruise fare,” said Scott Lara of TheCruiseGenius.com. “A lot of people are removing their advice towards the end of the cruise which penalizes the crew. While prices will go up in the short term, I think enthusiastic cruisers will embrace this change.”

While travel agents would like to change many elements of the current cruise landscape, the primary value that all advisors and their clients share is their desire to have fun while on the cruise.

Not all changes are negative, because most agents know customers just want more time to party.

“I would like to see more late nights and overnights especially in the Caribbean,” Caulfield continued. “Being able to experience the island’s nightlife is something that attracts new people to take a cruise. I love Bermuda cruises because I am able to enjoy the island without rushing back.”

The combination of technology and the lasting impact of the pandemic has created a storm of confusion for consumers, which is why they have to book their flights with travel advisors.

With everything still returning to some semblance of normalcy, the agents will help propel the cruise industry to make the improvements needed to meet the ever-changing demands of travelers.

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