Travel agents say they understand Royal Caribbean International’s decision to cancel Independence of the Seas ex-UK season in 2020.

The cruise line announced on Thursday (May 9) that the 4,560-passenger ship would operate Caribbean sailings from Fort Lauderdale in Florida, instead of homeporting in Southampton from May next year.

Royal has confirmed that only Quantum-class vessel Anthem of the Seas will be based in Southampton next year.

The line insisted the move was not a reflection of a softer UK market, but rather in response to “phenomenal demand” from North America.

Independence came back into service after a multi-million pound refit in May 2018.

Paul Frost, of Holiday Direction, said: “We are seeing ever increasing demand for destinations further afield such as the Caribbean and Far East due to cost effectiveness against the equivalent European holiday.”

Travel Village managing director Phil Nuttall said Royal had made a “brave” decision just 12 months before Independence’s first ex-Southampton sailing.

He added that taking Independence out of Southampton would help “protect the brand” and keep prices high for ex-UK Royal Caribbean sailings.

“Overcapacity drives pricing down,” he said. “It is a shame that we are losing a ship, but it means that we can keep the pricing high and at the level it should be.

“Anything that stops us declining the brand proposition is the right thing to do. It is a brave decision and the right one to protect the brand.”

Nicola Payne, Travel 2’s product and commercial manager for cruise, said Royal’s decision did not come as a surprise amid ongoing Brexit uncertainty.

“It could be the ‘Brexit-effect’ – you can see that from the market over the last few months,” she added. “It is a not a huge surprise.”

She welcomed more capacity in the Caribbean which she said is Travel 2’s most popular destination.

Simone Clark, Iglu’s senior vice president of global supply, said: “Five years ago, all we sold was Royal Caribbean from Southampton, but now we sell it all over the world.

“There is more fly-cruise and we do a lot out of Barcelona. There are so many flights into Barcelona, Venice and Rome.”

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