Forbes Magazine by: Debbi Kickham
March 21, 2020
Will all of us ever cruise again? That’s just one of the questions I posed to Mary Jean Tully, founder and CEO of Tully Luxury Travel, one of the most respected travel agencies in North America, with annual sales of more than $100 million in cruise sales alone. Her travel agency, located in Toronto, has a global clientele and is the Number One revenue-producer worldwide in the luxury cruise market. Ms. Tully granted me an exclusive interview as to the status of luxury travel right now, in light of the pandemic.
What is going on for you right now at your travel agency?
Currently we are getting people home, whether they live in the Stares, the UK, Canada or elsewhere. With all of the continual changing of itineraries it has been daunting with all the closings. We are also helping new clients — who were not our original clients — who booked online and they have had no one help them or to be their advocate. That is where we step in.
Are you getting a lot of cancellations?
Of course – people were cancelling as they were afraid of being quarantined in another country. But, if you stop and think of how many cruise ships were out there, all without incident, that says a lot as well. People were nervous, the media wasn’t helping and things were changing by the hour. On Crystal Cruise Lines World Cruise, that was to say, a cruise of over 100 days, we had just 98 passengers onboard alone that were our clients and not one of them was affected by the virus.
Some chose to leave the ship early as they were nervous about ports of call and if they were going to wind up being quarantined in a particular place or if they had health issues and they just wanted to get home. Crystal was absolutely perfect and worked with us to make sure everything was executed just beautifully
What happened on Princess was handled wrong by both the cruise line and the Port Authority in Japan. They should have gotten all those people off the ship and should have handled it differently. They should not have been quarantined without the proper procedures. There were only 10 cases on board and because they kept them in quarantine without proper procedures in place and medical supplies, that number rose to 700. The quarantine was not justified and caused way more problems that could have been stopped. This mistake was a huge cost to many.
This was something new and foreign for everyone. It was a tragic error.
Is anyone booking cruises with you right now?
Yes, many are booking later in the year and in 2021. The cruise lines have been outstanding in giving future cruise credits and working with us. I feel very sorry for what everyone — especially the cruise lines — have to endure because of all of this. But they could not have handled it any better as things were changing on a daily basis. Not one of my clients who came off any of the cruise ships — whether it was Crystal, Regent, Seabourn or Silversea — all of them said that they would not hesitate to cruise again. All would have also stayed on the ships had it not been for the uncertainty of being quarantined as so many ports were closing as they were worried that their infrastructures would not be able to handle passengers if they were sick. So for the sake of having tourists come into their city for just one day, they decided at the last minute to turn the ships away. This created a complete nightmare and a ricochet affect everywhere.
Where are people booking future cruises?
For this summer Alaska is big and Panama Canal. Normally it’s the Mediterranean season but with everything that’s going on that’s all up in the air for now. Antarctica is also big and based on what’s now happening in Europe, river cruising, which has always been strong for us, but that is all up in the air right now. No one is booking anything close in as they are all waiting to see what happens.
The majority of people are booking in the Fall/Winter dates now to be safe. The cruise business will come back, tenfold, as it still is one of the very best ways to travel. Nobody ever expected anything like this to happen, you can’t even begin to comprehend what has been happening. Not one of my clients – not one has said they are afraid to cruise again. Ever.
Certainly the luxury cruise lines – From Crystal to Oceania, Seabourn, Regent – they have handled all of my clients exceptionally well. All of our clients on Crystal’s World Cruise were given cruise credits and they all booked again for next year.
What do you think is going to happen to the luxury cruise industry?
People are not going to give up their God-given right to travel. This has been a huge shock to our entire industry. Travelers are resilient; they don’t remember what happened as much as they remember how they’ve been treated. Yes, there were mistakes made, the people were in a panic it was only because some of these countries didn’t have infrastructure and they were worried they were going to have so many people in there — everything happen way too fast.
These are all experienced travelers. They know this is not the norm. At any given time there were hundreds of cruise ships sailing without incident. We just heard what happened on Princess. Remember this is not a cruise illness.
Cruises receive a bad rap. Someone had said, “It’s a floating prison.” I am here to tell you that it is not. Cruises have the highest passenger satisfaction rate of any vacation taken today. The amount of business we do alone speaks volumes and the number of cruise ships that sail every single day speaks volumes as they are all without incident. My clients are savvy travelers who keep coming back again and again.
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