To some, it may seem as if the cruising industry is dying. After all, how could it possibly come back from the wreckage of the COVID-19 pandemic, when you have entire cruise ships stranded due to outbreaks of the virus onboard, as well as very little travel occurring at the moment, especially very little leisure travel? Many cruise lines have closed up shop completely for at least the next few weeks — some for as long as the next few months. How, you ask, could they ever survive the coronavirus crisis?
However, the cruising industry is notoriously resilient, coming back disaster after disaster, with more people than ever cruising (and many of those individuals being new cruisers who have just recently caught on to the benefits of cruising).
COVID-19 may be impacting the cruise industry negatively for now (in fact, some news outlets have called the coronavirus “the cruising industry’s 9/11”), but this certainly won’t be the end of the cruise industry — and here are six reasons why and ways that the cruising industry will make a comeback following the coronavirus crisis.
1. New cruise ships will attract travelers of all types with bigger and better amenities than ever before
It’s difficult to resist something shiny and new and that’s definitely the case when it comes to cruise ships, particularly for long-time cruisers or luxury cruisers looking for the next big thing.
There are plenty of new, amazing cruise ships in the pipeline, too, that are either on order or under construction, and that will be making their debuts in the near future.
For example, the newly launched Virgin cruising brand, while delaying its inaugural voyage to August due to COVID-19, is sure to gain some attention, especially with those new cruisers who have thus far avoided cruising due to its primarily family appeal. The Virgin cruise experience offers a luxurious, adults-only atmosphere, with plenty of innovative ways to party, kick back and have a great time, so it’s just a given that when she does finally premiere, the Scarlet Lady cruise ship will gain some traction.
And Virgin is far from being alone; nearly every cruise brand out there has an innovative ship like this in the pipeline.
Celebrity, for example, was due to debut its Celebrity Apex this month, a mega cruise ship that’s the second ship in the Celebrity Edge series. Now, its maiden voyage has been pushed to late May, after a March launch. It certainly has enough fancy bells and whistles to attract travelers, including its Magic Carpet, part of the ship’s outward-facing design and the world’s first cantilevered, floating platform, that takes travelers 13 stories above the water.
Princess Cruises is one of the handful of cruise lines that have been getting a lot of negative press, but that’s not stopping Princess Cruises from launching Enchanted Princess on its maiden voyage in July. The fifth Princess Royal-class vessel, it offers brand-new unique dining experiences and the most pools and whirlpool hot tubs out of any other Princess cruise ship. The ship also boasts the largest balcony at sea in its VIP Sky Suite, with the balcony clocking up an impressive 1,000 square feet of space.
Carnival’s mega-ship Mardi Gras is still proving popular, despite continual build delays, and cruisers will find it difficult to get a stateroom on this ship when its inaugural season kicks off in November. This ship is the first of Carnival’s new XL class, with a capacity for 5,282 guests, and the first ship to be powered by liquefied natural gas in North America.
Royal Caribbean likewise expects its second Quantum Ultra-class ship to set sail in November, when Odyssey of the Seas is unveiled in North America.
Other cruise lines with new ships ready and waiting to launch this year? Costa, MSC Cruises and P&O Cruises.
2. Bigger and better cruising deals and incentives are going to be hard for stir-crazy travelers to pass up
One thing’s for sure — when all this COVID-19 madness is over, those who have the financial stability to travel will be wanting to, and fast. Frequent travelers all across the globe are already bemoaning their inability to hit the road and their frustration with being asked to stay at home (though they’re admittedly also realizing that self-isolation is in everyone’s best interest).
Travel brands — beyond cruise lines, but everyone, airlines, hotels and travel agents included — are going to be ready to welcome these eager travelers, too, and vying for their cash with deals and incentives that are going to be difficult to pass up. The deals have already started as well, with specials on cruises that travelers can book for late 2020 and throughout 2021, with cruise lines giving those future passengers an added layer of peace of mind with flexible cancellation policies that will protect them should the coronavirus crisis last into late 2020 and 2021.
Prices are some of the lowest that those in the cruising industry have seen in a very long time, and cruise lines are offering added value through extra perks, such as free WiFi, onboard credit, dining experiences, beverage packages, prepaid gratuities and more. And it’s not just the cruise lines themselves that are offering these lower prices and bundled deals; travel agents that specialize in cruises are doing the same thing.
Additionally, because of changing deployments that have come about due to the coronavirus criss, it’s now easier than ever to find new or unique itineraries that cruise lines are offering at rates you might not normally be able to snag, including itineraries to Alaska and around the Mediterranean, as well as transatlantic itineraries.
All of these efforts are already working, says Carnival CEO Arnold Donald in a recent interview, as bookings are strong for 2021.
3. The cruising industry deals with fewer U.S. government restrictions compared to other travel industry niches
It’s just a fact. The cruising industry has become known for dealing with fewer government restrictions than other parts of the travel industry. This isn’t just due to government sway. Ship registrations in foreign countries (including registrations in small countries with no need to enforce regulations), operations in international waters and current loose standards all contribute to the U.S. government’s inability to interfere with cruise lines that operate in and around the United States.
However, all this won’t necessarily stop cruise lines from potentially receiving a government bailout package, according to one POLITICO article, which could help cruise lines get back on their feet faster.
4. PR, marketing and advertising campaigns are already looking ahead to the future
Cruise lines and their savvy marketers know that they have to assuage public fears if they want to get more people on cruise ships. That’s why many of these professionals have already started touting the benefits of cruising, laying the groundwork and putting cruising in travelers’ minds ahead of time, so that it’s front and center when it comes time for them to book future travel.
Cruise lines are pushing the safety of cruising and educating the public on how they’re each individually fighting the spread of COVID-19, from new protocols to monitor guest and crew member health before a cruise embarks, to new sanitation methods that ensure all spaces are thoroughly cleaned ahead of a sailing.
Marketers and PR pros are also encouraging cruising community vocalism on social media and in online travel forums. After all, more and more travelers, research shows, turn to their peers for recommendations versus a professional or a brand. So, if these cruise lines can get their fans talking, it’s more likely new cruisers will consider a cruise later in 2020 or in 2021.
Anything, really, that can get people talking about cruising and cruise lines in a positive manner is fair fodder. For example, just last month, Norwegian Cruise Lines issued a release on its first-ever Call to Artists competition, wherein 20 Florida artists are competing to display their work in Norwegian’s new terminal in Miami (and the prize also includes an Oceania Cruises artist residency and a not-shabby-at-all $100,000 check).
5. Cruise lines are adapting to the new normal
Just about every industry has had to do it — adapt to a new normal, a new way of doing business, that could go on for a long time, past the point where people are back to traveling, even in small numbers. Restaurants are implementing curbside pick-up policies; airlines are booking travelers in seats six feet apart; cruise lines are changing who they let on their ships and how — and this could be the way they do business for well into the foreseeable future.
Many cruise lines, for example, are going above and beyond the guidelines that the Cruise Lines International Association has put in place for lessening the chances of a COVID-19 case popping up on a ship. Carnival, for one, has taken to monitoring the temperatures of all passengers and crew members.
Royal Caribbean is doing the same, but also monitoring anyone with flu-like symptoms and asking guests who are 70 years or older to show written documentation from a doctor that they’ve been cleared to travel. Other cruise lines are rejecting passengers that have been to or traveled from certain countries within the last month.
6. Cruise lines are adjusting and lowering their costs of operation, looking to long-term survival
While it would certainly be ideal for cruise line employees if each cruise line continued operating at maximum capabilities, it’s not the most financially feasible option for these cruise lines if they’re looking to stay in existence past the COVID-19 pandemic.
As such, many of these cruise lines are adjusting their costs, and that means cutting employees and often operating with skeleton crews, and docking some ships indefinitely (though in these cases often a very small crew will be kept aboard the ship to keep things running, such as power and sewage systems). A UBS forecast suggested that some lines could lay up 10 to 20 percent of their fleets this year.
Other ways cruise lines are looking to cut costs include decreasing capital expenditure and suspending planned ship renovations.
However, cruise lines must keep in mind that, as they slash costs of operation by laying off staff and laying up ships, that will mean more costs down the road, in expenses needed to thoroughly clean sitting ships, re-staff those ships and then redeploy them.
Some cruise lines, such as Carnival, are looking for additional financing from outside sources to help them weather the storm.
Regardless, Wall Street analysts expect the cruising industry to survive and avoid bankruptcy even if they’re forced to shut down for months, thanks to the largest cruise lines’ liquidity and borrowing capacity.
Bottom Line: The Cruising Industry is Here to Stay
The bottom line in all this? The cruising industry is here to stay. This resilient niche of the travel market is looking ahead to post-pandemic life and how travelers are going to want to get away as soon as possible — and how the cruise lines can then draw them in with attractive deals and amenity and perk bundles.
While things may be on hold and paused for the time being, cruising won’t be gone long and, when it does make its comeback, thanks to new ships and lower prices, things will be better than ever.