This past week, the industry was fully immersed in the Seatrade Cruise Virtual conference, with sessions full of optimism for the future of cruising. Executives, travel advisors and the industry as whole are looking at 2021 with a glass half-full view due to pent-up demand, bookings and the health and safety protocols the cruise lines have put in place, which, as noted by executives, will showcase to the world that cruising is one of the safest modes of vacations available to travelers.

The Conference’s Closing Keynote Session, “This Time Next Year,” whose panel included Dee Cooper, sr. v.p., design and customer experience, Virgin Voyages; Rick Sasso, president and CEO, MSC Cruises; Alex Sharpe, president and CEO, Signature Travel Network; and Jay Schneider, sr. v.p., digital, Royal Caribbean Group, and was moderated by Anne Kalosh, editor, Seatrade, was one of those sessions, focusing on what travel and tourism, particularly cruising, will look like a year from now.

The panel is quite optimistic about cruising in 2021, and about travel in general, with Schneider noting that although “we won’t be out of the woods yet, I’m pretty hopeful of the growth of travel in 2021, even though it starts out slowly.” Sasso concurs, noting that “My belief is that certainly by next October we’ll be safer than even before this pandemic started. At the end of the day, I think people will be accustomed to everything we need to be accustomed to to be safe. I’m very optimistic about what will be happening by October 2021.”

Sharpe has a fun take on the pent-up demand: “Remember when you were in grade school and it was the last day of school and you were so excited about summer? That’s what I think it’s going to be like.” But, he stresses, “Travel advisors will have to make sure clients understand the health and safety measures. Travelers have become more resilient. They’ll be ready to travel and travel with whatever it takes to travel safely. I’m very optimistic.”

Cooper, too, sees a lot of pent-up demand, adding that “We’ve learned so much this year.”

In terms of traveler profile, Sasso notes that he doesn’t believe there’s going to be a huge shift since loyal cruisers are ready to go, but he does see opportunity, noting that “we might be able to capture a new audience” who sees cruising as the safest way to travel. He points out that the space ratio on big ships is quite good

Cooper points, too, to how cruising allows travelers to breathe in that fresh air, and on Virgin Voyages specifically, she notes that many of the dining venues, for example, are smaller so that’s ideal for the new travel landscape. “The fact that we have smaller spaces, allows for people to feel more comfortable. Also, we attract younger adults. we have a wearable app to allow cruisers to choose where they want to go on a ship….

“We know people want to cruise,” she continues, “and we know as cruise lines we can ensure that everyone will be safe; we’re just waiting to be allowed.”

In fact, notes Sharpe, “As things progress, and the industry starts to reopen and cruise ships start operating, I think we could have a really good Alaska season for 21. I think that would be a wonderful springboard for all of us. And as we look forward, I think Americans really want to get back to Europe in particular and I think river cruising will lead that charge because of the perception of more intimacy, in port every day…we’re seeing it from a booking perspective, but that will cascade into ocean cruising.”

Travel Advisors—The Best Ambassadors for Cruise Industry
Although Sharpe notes that due to the COVID crisis and its impact on the travel industry, the travel advisor community will be smaller, with fewer agencies and fewer advisors, “coming out of this, they’ll been in greater demand, and I believe revenue for advisors could be much stronger than it’s ever been. We’ll be leaner and meaner, and come out stronger.”

And, adds Sasso, the “industry is compelled now more than ever to be the strongest partner with our travel sellers because you are our ambassadors. We are ready to step up, we’re here.”