There's lots of speculation about the return of the travel industry. One of the biggest questions is if passenger demand will return and if so, what will the impact of any pent up demand?. We have a cautionary tale to answer these questions.
A Cautionary tale
We had a request to book a new cruise. But this was no ordinary cruise, it's a world cruise - 180 day cruise staring in January 2023. The cost of the cruise is well over $100,000. So how hard could it be to reserve a cabin? Booking opened this morning at 9 am and we found out the answer to this very shortly thereafter.
We could see that there was limited cabin availability as of yesterday. That's because 2020 cruises had been cancelled and these people were being rebooked into future years. Understandably, Oceania gave them first priority. But there were cabins open in the client's preferred category (Penthouse) and so we started the process of booking at 8:30am. We've learned that many times vendors open up booking early on their websites. We have multiple ways to book: we can book directly with the vendor (Oceania in this case) via their agent portal. We can book through our Avoya Portal, or we can call into Oceania directly. So we tried all three methods and got nothing. In fact, our system was showing that everything was already booked all the way up to 9 am. The computer systems were overwhelmed; by about 9:10 we got through on the phone to complete our booking.
Demand and Supply
Here's the thing....the client's preference wasn't even available. We had to book an extended cruise (200 days) just to get any cabin. By 9:15, not one single cabin on the ship was available! There's one ship that does this itinerary per year and apparently there's lots more people that are wiling spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a trip.
Pent up demand? You bet. Everyone feels confident that by 2023, we'll have this COVID thing worked out and under control. All the people that didn't get a chance to travel in 2020 and 2021, are raring to go.
The cruise lines have been culling their fleets in general this year. They've taken on debt and sold ships to stay solvent - all in the hopes that travel will pick up. Oceania has not had to do anything radical - so they're simply trying to wait this restricted travel situation out. But they sure aren't adding new ships to the fleet right now. So in general, we have a case where the supply of cabins is much less than the demand for space.
We do have more work to do on this particularly booking. We're going to waitlist to try to get into the client's preferred itinerary (180 days). It's possible that some of the cabins currently showing a "booked" will become available once the dust settles. Concurrent with us booking the trip, we have an "inside" connection at Oceania Reservations that promised to try to get a cabin directly himself - we haven't been able to get in touch with that person but we'll continue down that route as well. If neither of these work out, we'll escalate up the Oceania sales teams that we know to try to exert some leverage for our client. We have the size of the Avoya network on our side there. Finally, if all this doesn't work, we'll work with the clients on other options (different lines, different itineraries) and see if we can better meet their needs.
So what did we learn?
So what did we learn? We learned that there's plenty of pent up demand.....at least for the high priced categories of travel. We believe this extends across the entire luxury category. The "K" shaped economic recovery by definition leaves those well off in even better shape than before the pandemic. And those are the people that generally book luxury travel like world cruises on Oceania, river cruises with AmaWaterways or high end land hotel packages with Tauck.
What's this mean for you?
This means that booking early is even more essential than before. It means that you might need to be more flexible with dates, itineraries or cabin categories. And it means deals might be much more opportunities than widely available.
Mostly it means you should be talking with your trusted travel advisor now to make sure you don't miss out.