Travel agents, cruise executives and financial analysts are saying little to dispel the current sense of uncertainty about the 2003 Wave Period. On a positive note, several reported brisk cruise sales, but those who saw high volume were quick to point out the sales were at lower prices.
"Booking rates for the Wave Period to date have been very solid," reported Tim Conder of A.G. Edwards, "equaling or slightly exceeding a strong year-over-year comparison. However, overall greater than-expected seasonal pricing erosion continues, with year-over-year pricing down."
According to Bobby Heiser, CTC, of Vacation.com, "2002 was not like any other year, with the fallout of 9/11. If you compare 2003 to 2000 or 2001, though, we're booking more passengers for the same revenue. I think things feel like they're slowly improving."
Several agents also pointed out that judging the Wave Period is harder this year because when people switch to a close-in booking pattern - as they have - the "pattern" of the wave necessarily flattens.
According to Raymond Kane of Pisa Brothers, "It's slow but steady - our revenue is probably 25 percent less than normal, but booking-wise we're probably the same as where we were last year."
Joe Galloway of Woodlake Travel characterized sales as "really good so far," but he too admitted prices were down. He noted, however, that he was negotiating with a cruise line for 50 cabins next October, and the cruise line was not offering him the deals they were last year - "which tells me that when it comes to discounting, they're trying to put the genie back in the bottle."
Richard Smith of Cruises Of Distinction appeared generally content with activity at his agency in mid-January, neither overly positive nor negative. He did note that Europe is "a harder sell."
According to Mark Stuczynski of Your Vacation Travel, "The last couple of weeks have been great (in terms of the number of bookings). It's back to normal." But prices are very low, he said, adding, "The cruise lines are doing a great job of convincing people that cruises are cheap."
Several other travel agents, who spoke on condition of anonymity, offered more dire forecasts for 2003. "I believe this will be one of the worst years the travel industry has ever had," said one. "With people's portfolios not what they once were, with unemployment, the threat of terrorism, the war - how can this be a good situation? I don't hear my phones ringing."