Is it safe to sail again? Yes, say the fans who sail again

Outbreaks, denial of port, travelers stranded on board.

Cruise ships dominated the news at the start of 2020 for all the wrong reasons. Some people predicted that the industry would never recover.

But cruise fans say: that’s ancient history.

“If we had a choice, we would live on the cruise ship for the rest of our lives,” said Singaporean Peter Lim.

These 2020 issues are “not of concern,” he said. “We are all vaccinated [and] take and adhere to personal health protocols.”

Lim said he had “lost count” of the number of cruises he and his wife had taken and had already planned three cruises through 2023.

He enjoys “waking up in a different country the next day”, as well as the excellent customer service and loyalty benefits that cruises offer him.

Lim said he was not swayed by reports last week of a Covid-19 outbreak aboard the Coral Princess, a cruise ship that circles Australia.

As of last week, four of 12 cruise ships monitored by New South Wales, Australia, had cases of Covid-19 on board, according to the government’s website. The Coral Princess has been classified as “Tier 3” – the highest level of risk – indicating that more than 10% of passengers test positive or the ship is unable to maintain essential services.

Under Australian regulations, passengers who test positive on cruise ships must self-isolate for at least five days. But it’s far from “trapped” on board, as some media outlets have suggested, Lim said.

Those who were not infected were “allowed by local health authorities to take advantage of schedules and programs”, he said.

Stop worrying about Covid

Nearly two in three travelers say they no longer fear catching Covid-19 on a cruise, according to a survey of 4,200 customers of travel insurance company Squaremouth.

The company said it was a “complete change” from earlier this year, when 63% of its customers said Covid-19 was their biggest cruise-related concern. Respondents now say they are more concerned about weather and airline disruptions, according to the survey released in October.

Popular ports of call, such as the Bahamas, are dropping Covid requirements such as requiring cruise passengers to be vaccinated to disembark.

Daniel Piraino / Eyeem | Eye | Getty Images

The “2022 Membership Survey” published by and booking app Shipmate showed that 91% of respondents plan to cruise by 2023.

Regular leisure travelers are also open to cruising again, according to a new report from Arrivia. The travel loyalty provider, which runs programs for American Express, Bank of America and USAA, said 75% of members indicated their intention to go on a cruise in the next two years.

Nor has the pandemic scared off new recruits. Indian national Neel Banerjee said he had “no qualms” about sailing this month with his family on Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas – his first-ever cruise.

He said he felt safe and his family wore masks in crowded areas.

It could be cruising again as soon as next year, he said.

An “explosion of reservations”

When cruise lines began dropping vaccination and testing requirements in August, the industry saw “an explosion in bookings,” according to Patrick Scholes, managing director of accommodations and leisure at Truist Securities.

He told CNBC’s “Power Lunch” in September that this was especially true for luxury cruises.

Norwegian Cruise Line “has by far the greatest exposure to luxury and super-premium luxury…this component of consumer spending in travel is driving mass market spending skyrocketing,” he said.

The Grenada Tourism Authority said 202 cruises were expected to visit the island in the coming season, representing an 11% increase from the year before the pandemic.

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When reservations opened for Norwegian Prima, a new class of ship for Norwegian Cruise Line, it led to the “best booking day and week in our company’s 55-year history,” said Braydon Holland, senior manager of Norwegian, to CNBC.

Stefanie Schmudde, vice president of products and operations at luxury travel operator Abercrombie & Kent, said the growing popularity of expedition cruises has taken travel advisers by surprise.

Luxury travel operator Abercrombie & Kent said it was on track for a “record year” in expedition cruises.

Source: Abercrombie & Kent

“Expedition cruising” is a subset of cruising that involves smaller ships, remote destinations and discussions with onboard specialists, such as marine biologists and astronauts, Schmudde said.

“Expedition cruises represent a higher percentage of our bookings than at any time in A&K’s 60-year history,” she said. “Not only is demand exceeding pre-pandemic levels, but in many cases so is average spending.”

Recovery by 2027

Despite a strong performance this year, the global cruise industry will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2027, according to market research provider Euromonitor International.

In 2019, the global cruise industry brought in some $67.9 billion, according to Euromonitor. This year, it’s expected to bring in just over half that amount — about $38 billion — growing 7% a year, to again hit total retail sales of $67.9 billion in five years.

The global recovery is being held back by two regions – Eastern Europe and Asia-Pacific, said Prudence Lai, senior analyst at Euromonitor.

Without giving further details, Lai cited “geopolitical tensions” that are holding back growth in Europe.

In Asia, the problem is “mainly due to the slow recovery in China…due to strict zero-tolerance Covid policies,” she said.

China has historically accounted for about 80% of the Asia-Pacific cruise market, Lai said. But “currently we are only seeing about 55% of the pre-Covid levels driven by [the] domestic sector, particularly in regions [near the] South China Sea and Yangtze River,” she said.

Asia-Pacific cruise revenues are expected to remain stagnant this year as well as in 2023, reaching around 75% of pre-pandemic levels by 2027, according to Passport, Euromonitor’s market research database. .