Cruise bookings appear to be in recovery

Posted: Monday, February 25, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Cruise ship bookings so far this year are on the rise, though some cruise line executives are still being cautious about the season as legislators are being asked to spend millions of state dollars promoting the tourism industry.

''I expect to be full this summer. We have six ships with 154,000 cruise beds coming to Alaska. I expect to fill them all,'' said Paul Allen, Holland-America's vice president for Alaska sales and marketing. ''The booking situation has improved greatly since just after Christmas. The market is still price-sensitive, but we are seeing demand levels similar to this time last year.''

Dean Brown, executive vice president of Princess Cruises, the biggest player in the Alaska cruise business, was a bit more cautious.

''We fell well behind our booking curve during the time frame of September through November,'' Brown said last week. ''We have had a strong January and first two weeks of February, but the outlook for 2002 still leaves us with some concerns.''

Brown said Princess was using promotions and discounts and ''really working 12-hour days to try to create interest and excitement in our summer excursions, particularly in Alaska.''

Tom Baker, president of Cruise Center.Com in Houston, a large cruise-selling agency, says he's seeing evidence of healthy bookings in the form of rising prices.

''Deals that existed in December and January no longer exist,'' Baker said. ''Fares on NCL's Norwegian Sky sailing from Seattle on seven-day cruises to the Inside Passage have just increased $200 to $400 per person in the last week, which means bookings are up.

''We think Alaska is the destination for 2002, because it's not Europe,'' Baker added.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., owner of Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity, is seeing strong bookings, though the company won't comment on Alaska specifically.

''Our company has broken several booking records for both our lines'' in January and February, said Michael Sheehan, manager of corporate communications for RCCL. Royal Caribbean took in a record 147,819 bookings during the week ending Jan. 18, he said.

But Maureen Camandona, a spokeswoman for Alaska Sightseeing/Cruise West, said her company, a much smaller player, has not recovered from the effects of Sept. 11 despite ''a really terrific January and February.''

Cruise West carries about 2 percent of Alaska's cruise passengers.

''We are really pleased that starting Jan. 1 and through today (Feb. 20), we are going gangbusters,'' she said. ''But bookings are not at a level that makes up for what happened in September.''



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