Cruising will return to 80% of operations by end of 2021

The cruise industry is projected to have 80% of its worldwide fleet operating with passengers again by the end of December, with 220 ocean-going ships.

Pierfrancesco Vago (pictured), MSC Cruises executive chairman and global chair of cruise trade body Clia, said the sector had 16% of its fleet operating in June.

Now it is at 56% and is projected to be 80% by end of December, he told the Seatrade Cruise Global conference, taking place in person in Miami, as well as online.

He told delegates that the industry carried 30 million passengers annually in pre-pandemic times but since operations resumed in summer 2020, it has taken two million customers on cruises.

“We have emerged as one of the world’s safest holidays,” he said, hailing the industry’s work with private and public sectors around the world to introduce strict health and safety protocols.

“The future is bright for all of us here.”

However, he said bookings for winter are being weakened because the vaccination programmes in the southern hemisphere are lagging behind those in the north.

“Spring 2022 bookings are coming back and 2023 is better; stronger volumes are coming in,” he said.

Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Group, chairman and chief executive, told the conference that he expects his company’s ships in core markets to be back at 100% occupancy by end of this year.

He said there had been a lot of confusion about cancellations and cruise credits so he said it was “very important to get the fly-wheel going” and resume cruises ahead of the key wave period for bookings.

“We need that period of stability; getting more ships operating is a good way to do that,” he said.

“Also, word of mouth is important; people are coming back from these cruises and raving about them.”

Arnold Donald, Carnival Corporation & plc president and chief executive, said the sector is heading for a “bright future” but warned there are “potholes and detours” on the way.

However, customer satisfaction scores have been higher than ever from those who have cruised since the restart and the health and safety protocols are working.

Kelly Craighead, Clia president and chief executive, agreed that the science-led protocols are working and some measures may well remain beyond the pandemic.

The panellists also agreed that the other key issue for the cruise sector was a focus on its environmental credentials.

“We have not lost sight of the need to press forward in the area of sustainability,” said Vago.

Craighead pointed to investments of $26 billion in new technology such as LNG (liquefied natural gas) powered cruise ships and shoreside power to reduce emissions.

Furthermore, they welcomed the arrival of competitors such as Virgin Voyages, which launched in summer 2021.

Fain likened the launch of the new brand to that of Disney joining the sector, saying they helped to attract attention to cruising.

“They add 2% of the supply and 10% of the demand,” he said of Virgin.

Arnold pointed out that the sector had 30 million passengers pre-Covid, compared to a potential market of half a billion holidaymakers around the world.

He offered advice about the new venture to Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, saying: “Listen to your prospective guests and listen to travel agents; they will guide you.”

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