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Cruise ship passengers are booking activities months earlier than in 2019 - and paying more too

09 Feb 2023
Matt Hochberg

It's not your imagination: more people are booking up activities and things to do before their cruise than ever before.

Liberty of the Seas

If your approach to cruising has been to wing it and leave things to the last minute, you're likely going to face an uphill battle going forward if you want to try certain activities onboard.

One of the interesting anecdotes to come out of Royal Caribbean Group's quarterly conference call with Wall Street analysts was a revelation about how soon customers are booking things to do on a cruise.

Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty talked about a change his company is seeing in how far in advance people book up experiences once booked on a cruise, "Approximately 60% of our guests book some of their onboard activities in advance of their cruise, representing double digit growth in pre-cruise purchase penetration when compared to 2019 at significantly higher rates."

Aerial view of CocoCay from balloon

So not only are people booking things sooner, they're also willing to pay more for it.

Prices of shore excursions, drink packages, and just about anything you can reserve before a cruise have anecdotally gone up by cruise fans.  The exact price of these items varies from ship to ship and sailing to sailing, but without a doubt, prices are generally higher for 2023 cruises compared to a few years ago.

This is exactly what Royal Caribbean wants from a business standpoint, because people that book things early generate more revenue for the cruise line.

"Every dollar a guest spends before the cruise translates into about $0.70 when they sail with us, and over double the overall spending when compared to other guests," said Mr. Liberty during the call.

Casita on Wonder of the Seas

While the dollars and cents of the cruise industry business may not matter much to you, the trend of booking earlier should.

Royal Caribbean offers many different activities and things to do on a cruise, and these are quite popular.

Chill Island cabanas

Cabana rentals, shore excursions, culinary classes and more are popular among cruise ship guests, and Royal Caribbean sees more people booking them sooner.  This puts people that wait to the last minute at a disadvantage if they want to lock in these activities for themselves.

"Our guests are now engaging with us to book on board activities much earlier than in 2019."

"So far, guests booked on 2023 sailings purchased onboard experiences an average of more than two months earlier than in 2019."

For the company, they see this as a win-win for the company and passengers, "This translates into more revenue, stickier bookings and happy guests."


What's driving this change? Royal Caribbean thinks at least part of it is a consumer that is more comfortable making online purchases.

"The consumer at all different levels have gotten more comfortable using digital commerce to make their purchases," Mr. Liberty said.

Higher prices for cruises too

Symphony of the Seas docked at CocoCay

Besides excursions, wifi, and drink packages, the price for a cruise will cost you more than in 2019.

At the onset of the earnings call, Mr. Liberty talked about how cruise prices cost more today, "Pricing for our vacation experiences was higher than record 2019 levels when we operated with normalized occupancy."

North American itineraries in particular are trending up in terms of costs, which is where about 70% of its deployments are in 2023.

Serenade and Mariner of the Seas docked in Cozumel

"From a cumulative standpoint, these itineraries are now booked at the same load factor as they were in 2019 and at higher prices," Mr. Liberty stated.

So far in 2023, Royal Caribbean Group has enjoyed busier than normal cruise bookings during wave season, which is an industry term for a popular time to book new cruises.

Harmony of the Seas in Barcelona

Demand has been so strong that even higher prices haven't diminished interest in new bookings.

"The demand is that is that strong that we're able to raise price across these different products and really not seeing a pullback from the consumer as we continue to do so."

"And that is really a reflection of what we've seen since our last earnings call, or really since the announcement of the protocols being dropped."

"Just acceleration and the propensity to cruise across all three categories of new to cruise, first to brand first cruise has returned and in many cases is better than what we saw pre-COVID."

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