* Little impact seen from sinking of Costa Concordia
* Industry official says shipwreck seen as “isolated event”
* Some see 25 percent rise in bookings for all of 2012
By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK, July 18 (Reuters) - Cruise lines see smooth sailings and increased bookings in 2012, despite the tragic sinking of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy earlier this year, which travel experts feared would take a toll on the industry.
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said on Wednesday that more than half of travel agents it polled have reported selling more cruises this year compared to last. One-quarter said by midyear the numbers were similar to 2011.
Nearly 15 percent expected growth of more than 25 percent in 2012 over last year and a quarter predicted a rise of between 11 and 15 percent.
“Particularly for the U.S. consumer market, people certainly saw the Costa Concordia as a terrible tragedy that was a very isolated event and not indicative of how the broader cruise industry operates,” Christine Duffy, CLIA’s president, told Reuters.
“And I think that bears out in the fact that we are seeing cruise bookings up over the same time last year. There is still a lot of consumer confidence in the cruise product.”
The buoyant industry outlook follows concern in the industry earlier this year that the Costa Concordia, which capsized on Jan. 13 with the lost of 32 lives, would lead to cancellations and a dip in sales.
The captain of the ship faces multiple charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship before all its passengers and crew were off.
Duffy said immediately following the accident CLIA called for an operational review and has since issued six proposals to increase safety on ships beyond what is legally required.
“We have already announced six new policies as a result of the operational safety review since January,” said Duffy, adding they relate to recording and providing passengers’ nationality information and emergency instructions for passengers.
Travel agents said there was some initial impact from the disaster during the busy Wave Season, usually from January to March when many bookings are made for the year.
Uf Tukel, a co-president of iCruise.com/WMPH Vacations in Delray Beach, Fla., said some of his clients voiced concerns about safety after the tragedy and business did slow a bit, but sales are now 10 percent above last year.
“People are saying that they see what the value of a cruise vacation is,” said Tukel, adding that 80 percent of cruises are booked through agents.
Like many of the 300 travels agents questioned in the poll, Tukel said cruises in Alaska are “very big this year” and he has seen a 40 percent jump in sailings in Hawaii.
Prices for cruises in Europe, he added, are phenomenally low but the airfares for Americans to get there are very high.
Typically passengers book cruises four to five months before their departure, a pattern that has been consistent this year. The United States is the largest market for cruises, followed by Britain.
Nearly 60 percent of travel agents attributed stronger consumer confidence, along with an increased desire to travel, for the uptake in bookings.
About 16 million people are expected to take a cruise in 2012, according to CLIA, which expects increased interest in cruising in Brazil, China and Japan.
The strongest sales have been in river cruises, including sailings in Asia, contemporary cruises on large ships, shorter trips of three to five days, and premium and luxury cruises. (Editing by Kenneth Barry)