Penfield, N.Y.— In the 40 years Susan Keith has been a travel agent, she has seen cruises grow more and more popular.
Keith is the president and co-owner of VIP Travel Service in Penfield and she says cruise booking make up about 15 percent of her business.
“Every year, [the popularity] grows more and more and more,” she explained. “[The industry] just hit their highest levels this year.”
The popularity comes at a time when cruises have gotten some bad press.
In 2010, the Carnival Splendor was stranded off the coast of Mexico after an engine room fire. There have been reported outbreaks of the norovirus on cruise ships. In January 2012, the Costa Concordia partially sank off the cost of Italy, killing 30 people. In February 2013, five crew members were killed on an English cruise ship after a lifeboat accident.
In the most recent cruise ship mishap, the Carnival Triumph was left stranded in the Gulf of Mexico after an engine room fire. The ship, carrying more than 4,200 people, is currently being towed into Mobile, Alabama and is expected to dock on Thursday.
There have been reports of horrendous conditions on the ship. Passengers have told loved ones that there is a shortage of food, limited bathrooms and unsanitary conditions.
Despite the recent negative publicity, the cruise industry is sailing right along.
According to World Travel Holdings, a cruise agency, cruise bookings dropped in the six-week period after the sinking of the Costa Concordia. However, Tolkins says sales have bounced back.
The Carnival Corporation says they are seeing an extraordinary number of bookings.
Royal Caribbean reports that bookings have increased 20 percent since this time last year.
Keith says cruises are appealing because of their affordability and convenience.
“[Cruises] are very economical,” she explained. “There are so many cruises and new builds out there. The competition is fierce and it drives down cruise prices. The prices are extremely reasonable and much less than they were 20 years ago.”
Keith believes most cruise travelers know that cruises are safe.
“Not one person has called about [the Carnival Triumph] and we've had new bookings on Carnival today,” Keith says. “People who know cruising know that [what’s going on on the Triumph] is not an everyday occurrence and they don't expect this to ever happen to them.”
According to the American Association of Port Authorities, cruises generate about $37.85 billion in revenue in the U.S. Since 1980, the cruise industry has grown about 7.4 percent annually.