Editor’s Note – Monthly ticketIt’s a new DailyExpertNews Travel series that highlights some of the most fascinating topics in the world of travel. In April we set course for the multifaceted world of cruises. Whether you’re looking for travel inspiration or insider knowledge, Monthly Ticket will get you there.
(DailyExpertNews) — After two years of relentlessly navigating choppy seas, the cruise industry — one of the sectors of tourism hardest hit by the pandemic — is forecasting significantly smoother sailing ahead.
Facing ongoing pandemic pressures and increasingly pressing demands around climate action, industrial innovation and adaptation is the name of the game.
Virgin Voyages’ Valiant Lady made its debut in March 2022.
Gregg Wolstenholme/Bav Media/Shutterstock
CLIA predicts that passenger numbers will not only reach but exceed pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023. more than 75 ships on order until 2027.
Industry insiders say the demand for cruisers is there.
“The industry was only active for two and a half months in 2020 and partially in 2021, so there are essentially more than 20 months of cruise passengers who haven’t gotten their vacation,” explains Monty Mathisen, editor-in-chief of Cruise Industry. News.
Cruising is definitely back, albeit with a slightly different look and feel. This is where the future of cruising currently stands for 2022 and beyond.
Continuation of pandemic-driven protocols
DailyExpertNews’s Natasha Chen reports aboard the Celebrity Edge, the first cruise ship to leave a US port in more than 15 months.
Cruise lines have implemented strict health and safety measures in response to the pandemic, which, according to CLIA spokesman Laziza Lambert, “are some of the highest levels of Covid-19 containment compared to virtually any other commercial environment”.
McDaniel says that consumer confidence is high as a result.
“Cruisers have been told that they feel more comfortable cruising than flying, staying in a hotel, attending an indoor event, and even attending a house party with some guests outside of their family,” the editor says.
Those measures include vaccination mandates, pre-cruise testing, advanced ventilation systems, deep-cleaning protocols and the elimination of high-touch surfaces (for example, buffets are now manned by crew rather than self-service). Some lines still need to be masked and social distancing encouraged through reduced capacity, though those policies are easing.
“I’ve heard a lot of positive comments about the ships being less than full and that has resulted in a better onboard experience,” Mathisen says, but adds, “That’s coming to an end soon.”
But some of the newer crowd-reducing measures are likely to remain and prove to be vacation value additions for travelers, such as more streamlined boarding at embarkation and the replacement of personal monster exercises with virtual ones.
Passengers check in for their cruise in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on June 26, 2021. Celebrity Edge was the first cruise ship to leave a US port since the coronavirus pandemic brought the industry to a standstill for 15 months.
“A lot of the pain points of the cruise experience were around the first day — checking in, collecting, etc.” Mathisen says, “And they all have a new look.”
Also notable is the ongoing impact of the pandemic on itineraries, given the patchwork of shifting international restrictions around cruise ship access. Promising for the industry, some key destinations will lift their cruise ship bans for the first time in two years by 2022, including Canada and Australia.
Many ports will still require proof of vaccination or negative Covid-19 tests to disembark passengers – and port policies may shift with the ebb and flow of pandemic waves.
McDaniel says that because of such volatility, flexible cancellation policies are the number one consideration for potential cruisers. However, she advises, “Cruise lines are starting to change their cancellation policies from what we saw earlier in the pandemic, so it’s important to make sure you’re familiar with the policy of your choice before booking.”
Greener ship technology
Pioneering cruise lines are now pursuing a variety of new and more sustainable alternative energy sources to green their fleets, including electric batteries, biofuels and hydrogen fuel cells.
Norway-based Hurtigruten is behind the world’s first hybrid electric-powered cruise ship, the three-year-old MS Roald Amundsen; the company has since added two more hybrid ships, with three more to come, and has announced plans for a zero-emission ship by 2030. They banned HFO more than a decade ago and are currently experimenting with biofuels.
Hurtigruten’s MS Roald Amundsen in Duse Bay, Antarctica.
Asta Lassesen, CEO of Hurtigruten Expeditions, says the company hopes to lead by example, as “the only way forward for the cruise industry is a more sustainable one.”
“Unfortunately, we see large parts of the cruise industry dragging their feet, powering ships with polluting heavy fuel oil and inundating small communities by the thousands at once,” she adds.
Some like-minded cruise lines are joining the ranks, such as luxury line Ponant, which debuted an electric hybrid ship last year, and luxury Silversea Cruises, which has a hybrid ship lined up for 2023. Meanwhile, Italian mainstream line MSC Cruises has ambitions to ‘ the world’s first hydrogen-powered cruise ship.
CLIA reports that more than half of the industry’s new cruise ships will rely on liquefied natural gas (LNG). But industrial watchdogs like Marcie Keever of environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth warn that LNG is just a distraction and yet another major polluter.
“The cruise industry that switches to LNG is just going to lock them up in a failed fossil fuel technology for another 30 to 40 years,” she says.
The industry is also looking at mitigation measures through shore power connectivity, allowing ships to switch off their engines and connect in port. CLIA will have 174 ships with such connectivity enabled by 2027, although there are currently only 14 global ports with compatible infrastructure.
Even before the pandemic, cruisers showed an affinity for smaller, more intimate vessels, with a blessing of riverboats and expedition ships now on order.
Existing cruise lines such as Viking and Seabourn are expanding into the expedition market this year, while all-new brands such as Atlas Ocean Voyages and The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection expand the space for small vessels.
Viking’s two new expedition ships each have a luxurious Owner’s Suite.
While more expensive, these smaller ships offer a distinct appeal in a post-pandemic world, such as fewer crowds and access to more exotic bucket-list locations otherwise inaccessible to larger cruise ships.
“To put it very simply: size matters,” says Lassesen of Hurtigruten. “An expedition cruise ship has a smaller footprint than a mega ship.”
The pandemic has also accelerated a technology revolution aboard cruise ships, with newly digitized features enabling a more convenient — and contactless — onboard environment.
Smartphones and wearable technology such as bracelets or medallions now often serve as boarding passes and keycards; some portable devices even allow guests to track companions on board.
In restaurants, QR codes are replacing traditional printed menus, while cruise line mobile apps continue to evolve to help cruisers book meals, spa treatments, shows, activities and excursions at the touch of a button.
it comes down to
McDaniel believes the industry is well positioned to address any pandemic-related challenges.
“Based on trends we’ve seen around variants, their effect on bookings has a short shelf life,” she says. “So assuming similar patterns continue, we can expect the industry to be in a good position.”
But when it comes to sustainability, the industry still has a long way to go, say experts like Keever.
“Unfortunately, there is an incredible amount of greenwashing going on,” she says, adding that government regulation and oversight is needed “to force the industry to improve its environmental behavior and work to actually protect the communities and marine environment they travel to. “
What is certain is that there are major economic interests associated with the resilience of the industry.
Pre-pandemic, the cruise industry contributed $154 billion to the global economy, according to CLIA — that number fell by nearly 60% to $63.4 billion for 2020, leading to the loss of half of cruise-supported jobs around the world (a total of 576,000).