Cruise specialists welcomed further easing of restrictions from July 19 but said the need to update Foreign Office advice against international cruising remains the “focus” for the sector.
The Department for Transport last week confirmed it would allow all ships sailing in UK waters to operate at 50% of capacity, removing a cap of 1,000 passengers that had been in place since May 17.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps also confirmed the easing of quarantine rules for fully‑vaccinated travellers returning from amber destinations would apply to cruise passengers, while Scotland’s move to level zero restrictions should also lift a ban on cruise calls.
Andy Harmer, director of Clia UK & Ireland, described the capacity change as “good news”. But he added: “FCDO travel advice on cruise still has to be updated and that is our focus.”
Simone Clark, senior vice-president of global supply at Iglu, said the cruise specialist had finally begun to promote Mediterranean cruises for later this summer in anticipation of guidance being updated.
Speaking the day after the amber announcement, she said: “We’ve not been promoting cruise in the Med until last night. Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line have started selling. It’s all starting up again.” But she added: “The big one is cruises out of Miami. As soon as the market opens up we will start selling.”
A number of agencies said the additional capacity on domestic cruises presented “a real opportunity” for the trade and reported a swing in sales volumes towards the sector.
Last week Paul Hardwick, Fred Olsen Travel’s head of commercial, told a Travel Weekly webcast that the agency’s sales ratio had shifted from the traditional 50:50 to 70:30 in favour of cruise because of availability in the market.
And Travel Village Group owner Phil Nuttall said: “This summer there’s an opportunity for agents – not just for sales but also for new to cruise [bookings]. It is the best time ever to be a cruise agent. You’re investing in a customer who has never had a better time to try a cruise and potentially you have a customer for life.
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“As we build more and more ships, the concern is always ‘where do we find these new to cruise people?’ The [UK] sailings have given us that opportunity to sell to new to cruise. There are not many UK land holidays left to book.
“Looking further ahead when customers return from a cruise, they will say ‘we loved that what can we do next?’ The chance is there to obtain that customer and for them to be a great cruise advocate when they go down the pub.”
Hamish Kaumaya, managing director of franchise homeworking agency Travel-PA, said UK cruise bookings represented half of the company’s current sales.
Nearly 50 of the 95 agents Travel-PA has recruited sell cruise.
“Pretty much everything for the lates market is cruise bookings,” he said. “My agents are more clued up than we are at head office because 55% of them are members of Clia, so they’re always updated with the latest offers.”
Alison Earnshaw, managing director of Cruise118 parent World Travel Holdings, said UK and Greek Island itineraries remained “popular” but added “customers prefer the longer duration UK breaks” rather than “three or four night” sailings.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in customers who have never cruised before booking UK domestic sailings for this summer,” she added. “Having just been onboard [Royal Caribbean’s] Anthem of the Seas (pictured) myself it’s a reminder just how much a UK cruise has to offer in terms of value for money, outstanding choice of dining, facilities, and entertainment.”
Sixteen cruise lines are scheduled to operate 21 ships in the British Isles during the summer season, with Cunard, Princess Cruises and Virgin Voyages preparing to sail in UK waters starting over the course of the next month.