Cruises are finally getting a 'fair share' of the travel recovery

Andrea Zelinski

The last two months of 2022 may have been strong for cruise lines, but stocks analysts and travel advisors say that so far, this year’s Wave season is even stronger.

Just two weeks into the year, cruise lines are finally beginning to enjoy their “fair share of the travel recovery,” said Patrick Scholes, a Truist securities analyst in the hospitality sector.

“We can say with conviction that core (January-March) Wave season has started on a strong note,” he said.

For the first week of Wave season, sales were up nearly 50% industrywide compared with the same week in 2019. Scholes said sales have accelerated from the last two months of 2022, which were up about 20% from comparable 2019 levels.

“So far this Wave season is a 180-degree turn from last year’s,” he added.

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The greatest strength has been in sales of 2024 sailings, Scholes said. And like much of the last year, bookings for luxury continue to outperform contemporary lines, he said.

Cleveland Research Co. said this year’s Wave season is “off to a better-than-expected start.” In a recent survey of agents, 56% said they that bookings were stronger than anticipated for the beginning of the year. About 28% of agents said their booking growth was more than 20% above 2019 levels. Pricing was at least 5% higher than before the pandemic, according to 40% of advisors.

The research firm also found that Alaska bookings this year are ahead of expectations, noting that lines are more likely to fill additional capacity there at stronger prices.

AAA Travel is also detecting strong consumer interest in cruises. In a survey of 1,070 adults in early December, more than half said they were just as likely or more likely to take a cruise vacation than they were before the pandemic. According to the agency, that’s up to 52% from 45% one year ago.

Of adults interested in cruising, 39% said their top choice was ocean cruising, followed by family cruises at 25%. Luxury landed third at 19%, with destination and river cruises ranking at the bottom of the list.

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