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Cruises Discount Less To Fill Ships,Recovery Under Way-Survey

By Veronica Dagher Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- It's getting easier for cruise lines to fill their ships with not as much discounting, according to a recent survey by Susquehanna Financial Group. For the first time since the summer of 2009, a SIG Cruise Survey indicated that travel agents recorded a year-over-year increase in booking volumes. Namely, bookings rose by 1.1% in December compared with December 2008. And, while bookings aren't exactly "robust," said Robert LaFleur, Susquehanna analyst, they are better then the negative comparisons the industry saw during the height of the economic downturn. The increase in booking volumes was paired with a 1.5% drop in pricing--the lowest price decline seen in the survey since prices turned definitely negative in September 2008. "Less bad is the new good," LaFleur said, adding that this was the seventh consecutive survey in which the rate of price decline has moderated and indicates the industry is on the cusp of a turnaround in pricing. This is good news for the industry that amid the downturn had to slash prices in order to attract skittish consumers who generally have preferred booking shorter, less expensive cruises and waited until closer to the sailing date to book trips. In some more good news for cruise lines, the survey found the forward booking window expanded to 5.7 months in December from 5.3 months in the firms last survey. "Some consumers are feeling more comfortable with their financial situations and are more concerned about getting the cruise they want and the cabin they want and may be less concerned about price," LaFleur said. The survey echoes last weeks' report by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCL) that said it continued to see improvements in the booking environment. The second-largest cruise-ship operator by market share behind Carnival Corp. (CCL), then forecast net yields, or revenue per available passenger cruise days, to rise by 3% to 6% in 2010. The Susquehanna surveys travel agents across the U.S. and includes questions about overall demand trends, specific itineraries and lines, the firm said. -By Veronica Dagher, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2261;

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