The Cruise Industry Post Coronavirus And Beyond
Now, cruising has returned and returned mightily, but it is not quite at full force yet.
Most cruise industry insiders view 2022 as a year of transition, and by 2023, the cruise market — both leaner and meaner — should be in a better place than ever before.
“Overall, we continue to move forward in a very positive way, and we remain focused on getting back to full capacity and guest operations over time in the best interest of public health,” said Roger Frizzell, senior vice president and chief communications officer for Carnival Corporation & plc.
Increasing Capacity and Sales
Not all cruise ships are back in operation, but they are nearly there. Many companies expect to have their full fleets online by this spring and summer, including MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and all of Carnival Corporation’s brands.
“Since our ‘Great Cruise Comeback’ [campaign] began last July, we have been methodical in the relaunch of our fleet and bullish in lighting up the remainder of our vessels by May,” said Todd Hamilton, senior vice president of sales for NCL. “We are purposefully pursuing a strategy where we increase our occupancy levels slowly in order to preserve pricing integrity, which allows our travel advisor partners to earn higher commissions, as well as guarantee our highest level of guest satisfaction.”
Part of Carnival’s approach has included the accelerated recycling of several older ships to focus on more efficient and more exciting newbuilds. Over the last two years, its namesake Carnival Cruise Line brand has offloaded five of its eight classic Fantasy-class ships. And corporately, the company is set to introduce another half dozen new ships in 2022 alone. Some anticipated ships are Carnival Celebration and Princess Cruises’ Discovery Princess, which is headed to the West Coast.
Similarly, MSC will introduce two more vessels this year with MSC Seascape dedicated to the North American market.
“Two brand-new ships in 2022 is a real achievement given the challenges caused by the pandemic, and we are excited that one of them will be based in Florida for Caribbean sailings,” said Ken Muskat, executive vice president and chief operating officer for MSC Cruises USA.
NCL’s new Norwegian Prima is set to launch in Europe during the summer before heading to the Caribbean and embarking in Miami and Port Canaveral, Fla., as well as Galveston, Texas. Then, in 2023, Norwegian Viva will debut in the Mediterranean and Caribbean. The brand has already opened bookings well into the future.
“In terms of capacities for agents to sell, we have announced voyages all the way into 2024, giving our travel partners plenty of diverse ship and itinerary options to offer their clients,” Hamilton said.
Moving Away From Mandates: Is It Safe to Cruise?
Part of making cruising attractive to more travelers is a reduction of COVID-19 restrictions onboard. Nearly every line has already removed or plans to remove mask mandates on their ships based in the U.S., and there’s even a possible end in sight for vaccination requirements.
“The safety of our guests, crew and destinations that our ships visit will never be compromised,” said MSC’s Muskat. “Our approach has always been to collaborate closely with the authorities in the regions where we sail and adapt our protocols according to local regulations as well as the evolution of the pandemic. The measures can be tightened when necessary, but also relaxed as the situation onshore improves. So, we will continue to operate according to this approach.”
As of press time, 113 ships have opted into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships, including those belonging to the Carnival brands.
“[We] will continue sailing vaccinated cruises as defined by the CDC,” Frizzell said. “At the same time, we have also introduced some changes to onboard protocols for guests, such as masks being recommended but no longer required in most parts of a ship, based on improving public health conditions. This situation overall will evolve over time, and we will continue following the science to provide a healthy environment for all our guests and crew while delivering great vacation experiences for our guests.”
As permitted by the CDC program, NCL is now allowing unvaccinated children under the age of 12 to board — provided they show proof of a negative PCR test — while those older must still be fully vaccinated.
“What this means for our travel partners is the ability to promote family holidays again,” said NCL’s Hamilton.
Travel Agent Participation
Travel agents should not sit idly by as cruise lines offer suggestions for partner participation.
“At NCL, we take our marketing-driven mentality versus the sell-to-fill thinking very seriously,” Hamilton said. “We encourage our travel partners to focus on value, not price.”
To that end, Norwegian currently offers its 'Free at Sea' program for added-value inclusivity extending to complimentary drinks, specialty dining, shore excursion credits, Wi-Fi access and airfare for the second passenger.
“With so many inclusions, it really allows us to charge an appropriate price for our cruises and not compete to be the leader in lower cruise fares,” he said. “Preserving pricing integrity is a primary strategy for us this year, and that benefits our travel partners through increased and fair commissions.”
The companies all emphasize their efforts to consistently communicate with advisors so they can learn about the latest products and current protocols and easily make bookings.
“The agent community is a key part of our business as they play a vital role in helping people choose a cruise in the first place and guiding them to the right cruise experience for their individual needs,” Frizzell said. “Ultimately, cruise is the best vacation experience there is, and one of the best vacation values in the world, and that has not changed. So, by continuing to work together to drive those positive word-of-mouth testimonials from cruise enthusiasts and reinforce consumer confidence, we will help fuel the ongoing recovery of the industry while attracting new guests to enjoy a cruise vacation.”
Will The Cruise Industry Come Back? An Optimistic Outlook For 2022 And 2023
The remainder of 2022 looks very promising, as does 2023 — even to the point of growing agent workforces. NCL indicates many agencies are now starting to hire more employees as they bolster their marketing efforts and look to leverage groups.
“Many partners took the opportunity to book group space and have kept their clients focused on bucket-list destination travel,” Hamilton said. “Because of that, our 2023 overall bookings have been strong from our travel partner channel. Our sales teams continue to help partners who are focused on group departures, further-out sailings and unique ‘Extraordinary Journeys,’ and we have seen great success from it.”
Besides new ships, MSC is anticipating the 2023 opening of its fresh Port Miami terminal. The largest in North America, the terminal will be capable of berthing three vessels simultaneously.
Carnival brands are also well-positioned.
In particular, AIDA Cruises is seeing strong demand for its summers in both 2022 and 2023, and Cunard Line just witnessed its greatest bookings in a decade following the release its summer 2023 program.
“Additionally, we are optimistic that we will see more destinations welcoming visitors as 2022 goes on and certainly by 2023,” Frizzell said. “As that continues to occur, we can reintroduce more of the cruises and itineraries our guests love, while also returning to historical occupancy levels as we continue to ramp up the resumption of guest cruise operations.”
So, get up again — because nothing is going to keep the cruise industry down.
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