Cruise specialists hail lifting of international ban

Agents have roundly welcomed the government’s decision to lift the ban on international cruises from August 2, calling the move “a massive step forward” for the industry.

Sources told Travel Weekly earlier this week that meetings were taking place and an announcement was imminent, with transport secretary Grant Shapps and subsequently the Department for Transport and maritime minister Robert Courts confirming the news on Wednesday.

A statement from the DfT confirmed that international cruise travel advice would be “amended to encourage travellers to understand the risks associated with cruise travel and take personal responsibility for their own safety abroad” and said the government had approved international sailings following “the close monitoring of epidemiological evidence, gained through the restart of the domestic cruise industry”.

Royal Caribbean Group chairman and chief executive Richard Fain, on board new Silversea ship Silver Moon, said: “I got word that it was coming earlier this afternoon [Wednesday] and I was ecstatic. I think the British government has taken a methodical approach, they’re moving in the right direction and the idea that they would make that kind of announcement is very encouraging to everybody in the travel sector.”

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World Travel & Tourism Council senior vice president Virginia Messina said: “The cruise industry will breathe a sigh of relief that the crucial relaunch of international cruise departures from England has been given the green light, giving hope to a sector which has struggled to stay afloat.”

The news was hailed by agents who pointed to the positive effect of this summer’s domestic round-Britain cruises and said it would now allow them to book more international sailings.

Alison Earnshaw, managing director of Cruise118 parent World Travel Holdings, said the UK cruise sector had been waiting for the ban to be lifted “for some time”.

She said: “The cruise lines have done a lot of work and the onboard experience is probably far superior to a lot of land holidays. Domestic cruises this summer have really played their part.

“It’s really good news. We have been waiting for this for some time. There was a lot of speculation and we’d heard that it would come at the end of July. This is a massive step forward for cruise.”

Earnshaw added that the decision had brought the cruise sector in line with the rest of the travel industry and suggested customers opt for sailings which did not call at multiple countries due to the traffic light system.

“Royal Caribbean, NCL, Silversea, Celebrity Cruises and Seabourn all have itineraries in Greece,” she said.

Paul Hardwick, head of commercial at Fred Olsen Travel, said the announcement had given his sales staff “a huge opportunity” to “really ramp up” marketing and secure bookings.

He confirmed that the agency’s digital magazine filled with cruise deals would be sent out to more than 100,000 customers, franchisees and staff in the coming days.

“This opens everything up massively for us,” he said. “Cruise is the one thing that has been selling well. We now have more cruises to sell at a higher value.”

He identified sailings in the Canaries and the Caribbean as key areas of interest for customers. He also indicated that sales staff could try and rebook frequent cruise passengers on sailings this year.

“We’ve had quite a few [customers] move bookings to next year,” he said. “But now we’ve got the opportunity to go back to them and say ‘have you thought about this year?'”

Simone Clark, Iglu’s senior vice president of global supply, said: “We’ve got people booked for travel in the Med. It’s one step forward to getting cruise back to normality. It gives customers that extra confidence to book.”

James Cole, Panache Cruises founder and managing director, called the government’s decision a “significant step forward”.

“Sales have definitely picked up over the course of the last few weeks and this announcement will no doubt give customers greater confidence to start cruising again,” he added.

Michele Dance, founder of Ocean World Travel in Eastleigh, said: “We can almost see a future for the cruise industry now. We can focus on some sort of normality.

“This last week we’d noticed that bookings for 2022 and for later this year were going up. People were quite sceptical about ‘seacation’ sailings this summer but they’ve been going away and saying that they’re really good. You get the commission straight away and you know that they’re not going to be cancelled.”

Jacqueline Dobson, Barrhead Travel president, also welcomed the news, saying: “The programme of domestic cruising in the UK this summer has been incredibly successful with the cruise lines, ports and associations working tirelessly to ensure they could provide a safe and welcoming onboard experience.

“Pre-pandemic, cruising was seeing significant growth in popularity; this was reflected in our bookings with over one third of our customers choosing to cruise.

“We have only seen demand for future cruising continue to grow with customers booking as far out as 2024.

“Many holidaymakers have enjoyed first taste of a cruise this summer by embarking on a domestic cruise. We anticipate this will enhance future demand as it has provided new-to-cruise customers with a flavour of what they can expect on typical cruise holiday.”

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