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Cruising in 2022: Heady times for the high seas

2022 has shown itself to be an excellent year of recovery for the tourism industry as a whole after the Covid-19 pandemic. This statement is particularly true of the leisure segment. Within this segment, the cruise industry is going from strength to strength in its comeback. In 2022, bookings picked up against pre-crisis levels and many operators are opening new experiences for 2023. Such a renaissance is not unremarkable for an industry that suffered from several high-profile Covid-19 quarantine incidents, such as Diamond Princess, in 2020. Let us take a look at the signs of recovery, the future development plans of industry players from Europe to North America, the new ecological measures being implemented, and other trends blossoming in the world of cruises.

In October 2022, consumer sentiment data released by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the trade association for the global cruise industry, showed appetite for cruise travel to be greater now than in 2019. 84% said they intend to cruise again, vs 79% in 2019 , and of those who had never taken a cruise, 67% said they were open to trying it. One reason given for this growth by the CLIA is the perceived sustainability of the sector. “After the pandemic-related drop, the industry is steadily recovering, and the forecast is to surpass pre-pandemic levels in 2023. This is also thanks to the sector’s commitment to sustainability, both in terms of the environment and responsible tourism”, shared Maria Deligianni, National Director, Eastern Mediterranean, CLIA.

More and more destinations are beginning to open up again to the world following strict Covid protocols. New Caledonia, for example, welcomed its first cruise liner in two and half years in October of this year when P&O Cruises’ Pacific Explorer docked in Nouméa. In a similar vein, Caribbean Cruises announced a strong reservations bounce after the lifting of health protocols in 2022. Third quarter of the current year outperformed the same period in 2021 and already bookings for Q3 of 2023 are double that of the second quarter. Indeed, the company’s executives are saying that reservation behaviour amongst its clients has returned to that of 2019. The company’s Q3 2022 EBITDA was $742.3 million, versus a net loss of $704 million in Q3 2021.

Much like Caribbean Cruises, Scenic are also looking to 2023 full of confidence. The company has invested in a new ultra-luxury Discovery Yacht, which will take to the seas in April of next year. Scenic Eclipse II will boast a 5,920 ft² Senses Spa, saunas, a steam room, plunge pools, relaxation lounges, a KLAFS custom salt therapy lounge, a yoga/Pilates studio, and a beauty studio. It is expected to sail to varied destinations, including Scotland, Antarctica, Portugal, Fiji, Australia, Denmark, and Jamaica.

Europe

France

“We are coming out of the pandemic stronger than ever”, declared MSC Croisières’ Managing Director in France, Patrick Pourbaix in October 2022. The cruise line will grow its fleet by 3 vessels to a total of 21 in 2023 and is returning to almost pre-2020 levels in its activity. Furthermore, it also harbours ambitions of expanding its offer and becoming more of a full-tour operator. MSC Croisières is developing charters, block seats, and pre-stays after the acquisition of a network of agencies and a tour operator in Italy. This will notably result in three charters to Hamburg, Athens, and Monfalcone, with 450 seats for 22 weeks.

The company’s accelerated recovery has been further boosted at the end of 2022 by the long-awaited return of cruises to the West Indies. Martinique and Guadeloupe are now back on the menu for MSC Croisières’ clients, and these destinations have a penetration rate ten times higher than that of mainland France. Indeed, the cruise line posted record reservation figures in October 2022 of nearly 400,000 bookings for winter 2022/23 and summer 2023 routes across its worldwide fleet.

This traditional major player will also now face a new challenger on the French market. Norwegian Cruise Line is seeking to seduce the clients of this market with its offer of different destinations to the norm, including Alaska, the Hawaiian Islands, South America, the Canaries, the Caribbean, and Polynesia. In order to succeed in this endeavour, the company is adopting a marketing approach, which is based on online as well as traditional distribution and it will also be present at several B2B events, such as the Visit USA roadshow.

Alsatian actor, CroisiEurope, has managed to get all of its fleet back on the water in 2022, after a late return to operations the previous year. 2019 was a record year for the company and remains the benchmark by which its post-Covid recovery will be measured. Beyond the pandemic, geopolitical upheavals in 2022, such as the war in Ukraine disrupting routes on the Danube, have not been kind to the company. To combat this, the company will open new routes to Egypt, the Canaries, and Corsica. These new routes have met with success thus far. The French market constitutes 60% of the company’s sales. These clients have recently discovered ‘mini-cruises’ along French canals, which previously had been the domain of Anglophone travellers, and have shown themselves to have a great appetite for this type of experience.

Brittany Ferries senses a turning of the tide for the sea travel market as well and is activating different levers to make the most of this recovery. In October 2022, its historical shareholders voted to inject €10 million into the Breton company. Brittany Ferries recorded good passenger figures for the period November 2021 – October 2022, after a difficult couple of years due to Brexit and Covid-19. Passenger volumes on the UK/Spain routes increased by 9% to 320,364 passengers and the Ireland/France route is also flourishing. However, cross-Channel passengers remain a problem for the company. They have dropped by 35% to 1.22 million over the period.

United Kingdom

On the other side of the Channel, the cruise sector is enjoying a strengthening of its offer. British line, Cunard, has announced two new routes for two of its most iconic assets: Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth. Both voyages will be 100 nights long and will set off from Southampton. Queen Mary 2 travellers will enjoy 31 stops including Ho Chi Minh, Durban, Lisbon, and Cape Town, whilst Queen Elizabeth’s passengers will visit New York, San Francisco, Sydney, Singapore, and Dubai, amongst its 26 stops.

Dutch cruising company Sailing Classics has announced a partnership with UK operator VentureSail Holidays to grow the luxury travel segment in the British market. Three luxury classic yachts, Rhea, Kairos, and Chronos, will offer up to 26 guests a highly personalised service, including a maître d’ and large en-suite cabins. Destinations for the cruises will include Croatia, Cape Verde, the Caribbean, and Greece.

Scandinavia

Another major market for the sector is showing similarly positive signs of recovery this year. For example, the Ports of Stockholm have posted impressive figures for the 2022 season. The Swedish capital’s quays have welcomed some 205 cruise ships, carrying 247,000 passengers, during this period. These figures represent an increase of 100% compared to the same period in 2021.

Nordic actors are using this return to fuel expansion plans of their own. The giant Norwegian Cruise Line unveiled plans to launch a new line of premier vessels. Norwegian Prima will be a line of six ships, the first of which was launched in July of this year. The innovative vessels will boast first-at-sea features such as a three-level racetrack, a three-story theatre/nightclub, a 44,000 ft² Ocean Boulevard, a sculpture park, and the world’s fastest freefall drop dry slide. Not contenting itself just to new assets, the company is growing its route offer as well. It has expanded Israel, where it debuted its offer with a cruise setting off from Haifa in November 2022. In 2025, these two developments for Norwegian Cruise Lines will come full circle when the final ship of the Prima line, Norwegian Viva, will offer multi-destination cruises departing from Haifa.

As for other actors, Havila Voyages baptised two new vessels in Norway in autumn 2022. In taking to the seas, Havila Castor and Havila Capella are the proof of the operator’s confidence in the Nordic market. The move came just 6 months after Havila started operations along the Norwegian coastline.

Greece & Italy

Elsewhere in Europe, ports in Greece are now making entering the cruise sector a priority. The North Aegean regional authority has stated its intention to reintroduce Lesbos to the market. To make this a reality, it has partnered with Five Senses Consulting and Development company, which specialises in the development of cruise ports, destinations, and businesses. In Piraeus, the local port authority plans to turn Greece’s largest port into a major homeport in the Mediterranean. It has welcomed large companies such as Viking Cruises this autumn and it hopes that its capacity to host up to 11 cruise ships simultaneously will serve to attract ever more lines.

In Italy, classic cruise destination Venice has enticed cruise company Azamara to return to its iconic lagoon. In April 2023, the new The Best of the Med voyage will stop in the Italian port city. Furthermore, the company’s four-vessel fleet are all now able to enter the city’s ports of Chioggia and Fusina.

All around the world

Further afield than Europe, the cruise sector is also showing positive signs. In India, a study on behalf of Norwegian Cruise Line illustrated that cruising has emerged as top family travel trend for 2023. 8 in 10 urban Indian families, who are planning to travel internationally, are considering a cruise holiday in the next 12 months. Considering the sheer size of the Indian market, this news can only be interpreted as a very favourable omen for the continued recovery of the sector going into next year.

Variety Cruises has its eye firmly set on Polynesia for the future. As well as taking on a new visual identity and website, the Greek company has plans to open new routes from January 2023 in Tahiti and French Polynesia. It will also launch new cruise concepts. These “thematic cruises” will be based around different concepts such as wellbeing or hiking.

In North America, the Bahamas announced a positive year for the island country, thanks in large part to the cruise industry. In the first trimester 2022, more than a million cruise travellers visited the Bahamas’ sandy shores. A far-cry from the record figures of 5.4 million in 2019, yet this business has served as a major boost for the country’s economy, according to its officials. It has led to investments in Nassau port and the construction of a cruise port on Grand Bahama Island by Carnival Cruise Line. These initiatives are expected to create 1,000 jobs.

It should, however, be noted that it is not plain sailing everywhere. In November 2022, Costa cancelled all its cruises to Asia after the Chinese government refused to renege on its zero-tolerance policy on Covid. Stopovers in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, and South Korea have all been put on halt by the Italian giant.

Attracting clients through cruising’s green credentials

The cruise industry is keenly aware of the importance of reducing its impact on the environment and becoming greener, as much for protecting the planet as for attracting more environmentally-conscious clients. As an ensemble, it has committed to pursuing net-zero carbon cruising globally by 2050. A 2022 report into the progress towards meeting this commitment by CLIA has unearthed positive results. This is particularly the case in regard to the number of vessels launching over the next few years that will be able to incorporate zero-emissions propulsion and also to the advances in equipping ships with the capacity to recharge using shoreside electrical facilities. Nonetheless, the report showed progress still needs to be made in transitioning to sustainable marine fuels in order to meet decarbonisation targets.

More locally, last October in France, all ports and ship-owners operating in the Mediterranean signed a charter with the State to improve their environmental impact. It takes the form of 13 pledges, ranging from sailing at less than 13 knots in territorial waters when large marine animals are detected to the introduction of a policy of using biodegradable and low-toxicity oils. Regarding the charter, the French government stated: “environmental innovation in the maritime sector, and in particular in the cruise industry, such as improved on-board wastewater treatment, shore power, and the use of alternative fuels (LNG), is part of the necessary steps towards the decarbonisation of maritime transport”.

Individual lines are undertaking sustainability programmes of their own as well. Royal Caribbean Group opened its new Galveston terminal in late 2022. It is the first cruise terminal to generate 100% of its required energy thanks to on-site solar panels. Based in Texas, it is also the first LEED Zero Energy facility in the world and will serve to fuel the group’s Royal Caribbean International brand.

As for Norwegian Cruise Line, it is adopting green methanol fuel as a means to reducing its emissions. Alongside MAN Energy Solutions, it has committed to a project to upgrade a medium-speed MAN 48/60 engine to make it capable of dual-fuel diesel/methanol operation. Additionally, it has joined the Methanol Institute and envisages other alternative fuel experiments in order to find a solution. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has made plain that it intends to make significant expenditures to achieve its goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

MSC Croisières has taken a step towards the cruise liner of tomorrow with the delivery of MSC World Europe, the first liner powered by liquified natural gas (LNG) made in France. 333 m in length, 68 m tall and capable of holding up to 6,700 passengers, it constitutes one of the biggest ships in the world yet is one of the least-polluting. A zero-emission vessel remains a thing of the future, however the industry is showing itself already to be taking significant steps to reduce its footprint where it can.

A sector ready to innovate and diversify

Some trends new to the sector have emerged since the health crisis. Certain companies and players are looking for new ways to break the codes of the cruise industry. Storylines have announced plans to build a mega-yacht with 547 luxury residences available for acquisition in either a 24- or 60-year lease. The 230 m long ship will set off on its maiden voyage in 2025. Expected to last three years, it will permit its residents to visit six continents and enjoy lay-offs in cities around the world lasting from 1 to 5 days.

This concept of using cruise ships in novel ways can be seen elsewhere in the industry. MSC Croisières took advantage of this winter’s FIFA World Cup to turn one of its fleet into a floating hotel in Qatar. MSC Opera docked in the port of Doha for 30 days over the months of November and December 2022. It offered over 1,000 accommodation options for visitors to the city during the festival of football.

Loyalty programmes have evolved greatly across the hospitality sector as a whole over the past two years. This is also true of the cruise industry. As an example, Holland America Line launched its ‘Refer a Friend’ programme in autumn 2022. It rewards members of the line’s Mariner Society loyalty programme for encouraging their friends and family to make bookings with the company. Referred guests must be first-time clients in order to be eligible. They then receive a $50 Onboard Credit, and the programme member also earns a $50 Future Cruise Credit.

The reasons to be cheerful are numerous for the cruise industry. Its major players have been able to survive an extremely trying two-year period and seem to have emerged the other side of it relatively unscathed. Appetite for its offer is not diminished, according to booking numbers this year and next, amongst its historic clients and looks to be growing amongst new clients. New routes and experiences are opening up and positive developments are unfolding in its sustainability commitments. It remains now to be seen if the sector can consolidate, or even better, a promising 2022 going into 2023 and beyond.

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