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Cruising after Covid: Will the pent-up demand from loyal cruisers be enough?

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

Recent industry reports suggest cruise bookings are on the rise, with strong sales for 2022 and 2023. Travellers are rebooking cruises that were disrupted due to the pandemic and booking those bucket-list cruises.

But what happens after? Will the pent-up demand for cruising be enough? Will loyal cruisers be enough to fill the ships again?

Over the last few months I have been attending several conferences and trade shows and there is little mention of how nervous people are about cruising right now. Pre-COVID, cruises were perceived to be a ‘safe’ holiday.

However, a recent study out of the University of Western Australia, of which I was thrilled to be part of the research team for, reveals COVID-19 has changed how people think of cruise holidays.

Our research revealed travellers in the UK and Australia are fearful of going on a cruise and said they don’t trust the cruise lines to look after them if something goes wrong. The study found even loyal cruisers feel differently about cruising, as the majority of respondents said they are less positive about cruising now.

The cruise industry needs to acknowledge and address these perceptions in order to recover.

Pre-COVID, a new cruise ship was built every 47 days, leading to robust growth, but dependant on attracting new cruisers. This is now in question if cruise ships are perceived as unsafe. The cruise industry has created incredibly comprehensive health measures and protocols, as the ‘Safe to Sail’ panel and recommendations demonstrate.

And yet, the cruise industry has been vilified in the media, and more needs to be done to level the playing field as airlines, hotels and all-inclusives resorts are not being held to the same standard. The outbreak that occurred on SeaDream was widely reported, and yet, what about all the international flights that have confirmed cases onboard? Why is this not being reported in the media as well? For example, I found evidence of 54 flights with confirmed cases that arrived into Canada in the past 2 weeks and not a mention of this in any news reports, and yet the SeaDream was positioned as yet another example of how unsafe cruising is.

However, until we acknowledge that people are nervous about going on a cruise, the growth we all want to see return will be difficult to achieve. We need to do a better job educating the public and the media about the measures and acknowledge that people are worried, but address these fears with information and give cruisers what they want.

And what do cruisers want? In our study, hundreds of people told us they will change the way they cruise. Further details will be released in a publication in 2021, but at a glance, people told us they will change the way they book, where they are going and which cruise lines they will book with.

But unfortunately the majority of respondents said they would wait until it was ‘safe’ to cruise, which means we have a long way to go to change the current perception of cruise ships as ‘giant incubators’ (as one respondant said), when cruises are likely much cleaner and safer than any other form of holidays right now. This means it is doubtful the pent-up demand from loyal cruisers will be anywhere near enough to fill the ships to capacity, which is critical for economic viability. I hope I'm wrong but this is what the data and people are telling us.

Personally, I would get on a cruise tomorrow, as I believe the cruise industry is far better at managing and preventing illness than any hotel, all-inclusive resort or airline and I would feel safer on a ship than anywhere else on earth.

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