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Demand for small-ship, river cruises surges amid coronavirus

Lucas Manfredi

Demand for small-ship and river cruises are surging amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a recent survey of nearly 500 travel agents conducted by Scenic Group.

The survey found that more than 60 percent of travel advisors reported that river cruises account for 25-50 percent of all bookings while 75 percent see small-ship cruise bookings of 250 passengers or less growing to as much as 25 percent of their cruise business.

While cruises and tours in North America lead the way for the rest of 2020, the survey finds a shift toward the Northern Europe and Arctic regions in 2021.

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Fifty-five percent of travel agents surveyed said their clients' top three concerns are related to safety concerns around COVID-19, including "needing to know the ship's response protocols for any onboard outbreak," "knowing the proactive safety measures the cruise line is taking to prevent outbreaks," and "how the onboard experience will change including food service."

In addition, agents surveyed reported more than 34 percent of their clients wish to convert canceled or suspended vacation bookings to a small-ship cruise, followed by independent travel at 30 percent. The agents noted that clients are also looking for reassurance when it comes to flexibility in booking and when it will be safe to cruise again.

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The findings come as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Thursday that it will extend its No Sail Order through September in response to the pandemic.

According to the CDC's new order, there have been a total of 2,973 coronavirus cases, or coronavirus-like illnesses, and 34 deaths on cruise ships between March 1 and July 10.

The order added that 80 percent of cruise ships in U.S. waters were affected by the coronavirus during that time period and that another nine cruise ships are dealing with or are resolving outbreaks on board.

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