Cruise industry ‘can surpass 2019 numbers next year’

Cruise passenger numbers in 2022 could surpass those seen in 2019, according to the new chair of trade body Clia UK & Ireland.

Ben Bouldin, Royal Caribbean Cruises’ vice-president for Europe, Middle East and Africa, was announced on Monday as successor to Tony Roberts, Princess Cruises’ UK and Europe vice-president, who was in the post for three years.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Bouldin said the restart of domestic cruises has been successful, despite limits on capacity, and the sector is confident about resuming internationally.

“Hopefully 2022 can be this fantastic year; the industry can really celebrate its return in all its glory with some of the most incredible ships having arrived this year that we can really show off properly next year,” he said.

“[With] even more new hardware joining the industry next year, there is a chance for us to sail with more passengers in 2022 than we did in 2019. And how fantastic an achievement that would be if the industry can realise that.

“The industry has the framework and the ability to sail internationally…there is enough capacity and enough demand for 2022 to be one of the industry’s greatest ever years.”

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Andy Harmer, Clia’s UK and Ireland managing director, commented on the new ships and industry investments, adding: “Success there relies upon our travel agent partners.

“That’s something that we’ve never forgotten. Every successive chair at Clia has really ensured that our focus remains on supporting our travel agent partners.

“Alongside the work that we’re doing to work with government, we’ve also kept up with that influence and that engagement with our travel agent partners.”

Bouldin agreed, saying: “I’ve always been a big fan of the trade. I know how critically important they are to the whole of the cruise industry. And they will be fundamental to our return.”

Bouldin also praised Clia’s collaboration with government officials over the course of the pandemic.

“People often think that the government’s not supportive of the cruise industry,” he told the webcast.

“The government has been very supportive of the cruise industry, we have had a terrific dialogue with them.

“Those conversations have been very beneficial and they have helped us learn a huge amount about how we returned to service safely not only in the UK, but more broadly.

“We’re on this domestic cruise journey, which is going extremely well; I’m confident that at the right time we’ll move into the international section.”

He said the 20 ships sailing around the UK this summer offered a “fantastic opportunity” for agents and there is still availability on many departures.

In 2019 there were nearly two million cruise passengers and the interest from new-to-cruise customers this year means there is a bigger pool of clients for 2022, he said.

“We have a domestic cruise opportunity to just explode. We have more capacity around the UK this year than we have had in any year,” said Bouldin.

“Some of the world’s greatest ships are going to be sailing around the UK. It is a fantastic new-to-cruise opportunity for us. It’s such an easy option for people.”

He also highlighted the sector’s confidence with international cruises, following successful seasons in destinations such as Singapore, Italy and Greece.

“Over 200,000 people sailed since November and we’ve had very little cases of Covid to manage, and where we have had a case, we’ve managed it flawlessly,” he said.

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