Study indicates more cruises are being booked direct

New data released this month indicates that a larger slice of cruise bookings are coming in direct now than before the pandemic started, an observation made last fall by two cruise company CEOs.

GlobalData, a London-based research firm, found that while the number of people cruising increased 95% from 2020 to 2021, revenue from travel advisors and other intermediaries increased just 65%.

This 30-point gap between revenue and passenger growth appears to be specific to the cruise industry: Total outbound trips increased by 95% in that time, while outbound revenue via intermediary bookings increased 99%, according to the firm.

“There is a whole list of reasons why travelers now prefer to go direct, all of which are a result of the pandemic,” said Craig Bradley, associate travel and tourism analyst at GlobalData. “Some want more flexibility and peace of mind, while others have had their confidence damaged due to poor customer experience, particularly dealing with refunds.”

Polling appears to support the shift in behavior, GlobalData reported, citing a 2021 Q4 Tourism Consumer Survey in which 24% of respondents said they booked their last trip with a travel agent or other intermediary. That’s down from 44% of respondents who said they typically book with an intermediary in a similar Q3 of 2019 survey.

Respondents who said they booked directly with a provider climbed to 36%, up from 32% in that survey.

The shift in booking behavior was also noted by cruise CEOs. It spurred Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Group CEO at the time, to publish a video pep talk to travel advisors in October saying the trend makes sense in the short term but needs to turn around.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings had seen the same trends, CEO Frank Del Rio said during a third-quarter earnings call with analysts back in November.

“We prefer the travel agency channel. It is our biggest channel,” he said. “It is coming back: We’ve seen improvement sequentially quarter by quarter in terms of the percentage of our business that is being booked by travel agents. And I do believe that once our fleet is back in operation along with that of our peers, they will come back.”

• Related: Have cruise sales shifted to direct?

Those CEOs surmised that the shift may have come because people got used to buying products online during the pandemic and travel advisors have had to cut staff and marketing during the pandemic.

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