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Virtuoso panel sees strong demand for cruises, higher spending for travel in general

There's robust demand for cruises with the luxury category booking well for 2023, a panel of Virtuoso travel experts from the US, Canada, UK and Australia confirmed.

'Cruise demand is strong' across all categories — ocean, river and expedition, said Beth Washington of Getaway Guild in Washington, DC, an affiliate of SmartFlyer.

Experienced cruisers are buying back-to-back cruises or multiple cruises in a year, she reported, however, sales are slower for those new to cruising.

Cruise travel is 'flocking back,' agreed Anthony Goldman of Goldman Group in Melbourne, Australia, who considers cruising 'the easiest way to travel through Europe,' especially at a time when air travel can be costly and chaotic.

Virtuoso Travel Week

Introducing Monday's panel, part of Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas, Virtuoso's Misty Belles said travel has been 'roaring back,' with the luxury segment 'always leading the way back after a crisis.'

Some 78% of Virtuoso travelers are ready to travel now.

'Flight complications have done little to deter them,' Belles said, and the dollar's strength against the euro has helped, wtih seven of Virtuoso's top 10 summer destinations in Europe.

Sales from January to July outpaced those of the same period in 2019, a record year for the luxury travel consortium. Australia and US outbound travel are doing well and Canada is 'catching up quickly.' The hotel booking window is further out than in 2019 and hotel rates continue to climb.

Luxury cruises pacing 'very, very well for 2023'

Virtuoso's future travel sales for 2023 are 47% above 2019, Belles said, 'especially for the luxury cruise sector, which is pacing very, very well for 2023.'

However, global outbound travel as a whole isn't expected to recover until second quarter 2024, according to Tourism Economics. After that, though, big spikes are projected in 2024 and 2025. 

'Excess savings' and pent-up demand

Belles said 'excess savings' are driving luxury travel demand. Typically, the stock market would be an indicator of how well travel will perform. But now there's a convergence of pent-up demand and savings.

The top 5% of households by income targeted by Virtuoso plan to spend an average of $48,274 on travel next year.

Longer trips and add-ons

People are booking longer trips, want to do more and are adding extras, which makes for hefty spending, according to James Turner of 360 Private Travel in the UK.

Not to mention inflation's impact. 

Inflated prices

Inflated prices will remain for the next 12 to 18 months, in Goldman's view. He added that once rates increase, they seldom come down although prices should 'moderate a little.'

Susan Bowman of LuxeXperts, part of Transat, with 2,220 travel advisors in Canada, said luxury travelers are spending freely but it's unlikely mass market travelers can continue to absorb prices that are 5% to 37% higher than in 2019. And there's 'sticker shock' for clients looking at returning to a favorite place or property.

One family booked a luxury trip in Sicily, not batting an eye at prices, until their van rentai charge of $11,000 — which they paid — but this kind of spike is 'not sustainable,' Bowman said.

Air travel issues

Air costs are sky-high so advisors often try to book the air component first when planning a trip to be sure it doesn't consume the budget and to secure availability.

Goldman noted Australia has just 70% of its flight capacity back and air is 'our No. 1 obstacle.'

Delays and flight cancellations in gateways like Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver and Amsterdam are 'really tough,' the panel said.

Now, more than ever, the skills of professional travel advisors are valued to navigate all the complexities. Many DIYers, even young people, are converts to using an advisor. 

Staffing challenges

Because of long hold times with suppliers and other issues, trip planning can take twice as long now as pre-pandemic, Washington said.

On top of this, staff shortages continue. 

Bowman said she lost one-third of her travel pros in the pandemic and 'It's a dogfight' to compete for recruits.