By Michelle Higgins
The New York Times
It’s crunch time for the cruise industry. Following the Costa Concordia disaster, cruise companies have been aggressively lowering rates and ratcheting up promotions to lure back hesitant passengers.
The two biggest companies — Carnival Corporation, the parent of more than a half-dozen lines, including Princess and Costa Cruises, and Royal Caribbean — saw bookings drop by percentages in the midteens in the weeks after the Concordia ran aground off the coast of Isola del Giglio on Jan. 13.
The accident, in which 32 people lost their lives or are presumed dead, led the industry to suspend advertising campaigns temporarily and focus on reassuring cruisers about safety instead of sales during its most critical booking time. About a third of all cruises are reserved during the first three months of the year, a time the industry refers to as wave season.
It hasn’t helped that images of the Concordia, which remains partly submerged off the Tuscan coast are ubiquitous in the news media and on the Internet. “No one wanted Nancy Grace going on TV with a picture of the sunken Concordia, followed by a Carnival ad, ‘fun for all,’ ” said Heidi M. Allison, chief executive of Allison & Taylor, a public relations firm that represents various travel companies.
After the Concordia shipwreck, cruise deals on Expedia.com, for example, jumped 60 percent compared with the same time last year. In addition to the reduced deposits and cabin upgrades that Norwegian Cruise Line offered last year during wave season, the company is offering what it calls free balconies — for example, cabins with balconies for the same price as an ocean-view room.
“This is the perfect time to book this year,” said Matthew Lee, vice president for cruises of Travelocity.com, which recently extended its Cruise Super Sale through the end of this month. Travelocity is also offering up to $600 in bonus savings to customers who book a cruise for March through July with an American Express card. But travelers must act fast. Deals “will dry up quickly” as cabins fill up, said Mr. Lee. In fact, Royal Caribbean reports that bookings have already started to recover.
So how do you nab a bargain? Here are some suggestions.