Why 2021 Might Be a Difficult Year for Cruises

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The year 2020 will be a year that many will want to erase from memory as soon as possible. The forecasts for 2021 look good with a vaccine approved in many countries and vaccination programs underway.

But what about the cruise industry? Is there reason to be hopeful for the year to come, or are there still many pitfalls the cruise lines will need to avoid?

We look at what challenges 2021 will bring, what cruise lines will need to do to overcome adversity, and how long financial experts think it will take before the industry is on pre-COVID levels of operations.

Will The Vaccines Safe The Industry?

Many worldwide herald the arrival of vaccines as the savior for the cruise industry. However, this seems unlikely. The matter is that cruise lines have enough challenges to overcome on which vaccines have little effect.

For now, vaccination programs are in the start-up stages of operation, and according to experts, it will take many months before a full vaccination program is underway worldwide. The best-case scenario’s to reach an effective virus stopping level is fall or winter 2021.

For cruise lines, the procedures and regulations that they have placed themselves under, and the procedures implemented by the CDC will not be disappearing for another year.

Ships sailing at reduced capacity, 100% testing, social distancing, mask-wearing, and electronic surveillance of passengers onboard will exist for the foreseeable future.

As they are seen by the uninformed as a floating petri dish, the cruise industry will be under extreme scrutiny from the press, government agencies, and the public in the future. Even after a full vaccination program is concluded, it seems more than likely cruise lines would choose to uphold at least some features that have been implemented.

Bookings Numbers Are High, But It’s A Fragile Balance

Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, MSC, and many more cruise lines have all made statements recently that bookings numbers for 2021 are high. And these numbers do not only include the people re-booked from canceled voyages; many are new bookings.

This is excellent news and confirms that the public’s confidence in the cruise industry has not faded away. The saying that good memories last longer is a valid argument here it seems. But, the balance is a fragile one.

The cruise industry will need to get all the details 100% right all the time in the next twelve months if it wants this confidence to remain high. Incidences onboard a small vessel like Seadream 1, rightly or wrongly, have the potential to ruin all the hard work that has been put in.

The fact is that the news of a false positive anywhere in the world would never gain as much traction in the mainstream media as the false positive onboard Quantum of the Seas; this alone should be a valuable lesson for all cruise lines.

Quantum of the Seas Cruise Ship in Japan
Photo Credit: Emrys Thakkar

Cruise Lines Have A Long Road Ahead

Making predictions about when the cruise industry will have recovered is incredibly difficult while the ships are not sailing yet. However, that it will take years before we see a recovery to pro-covid times seems to be about right.

Passenger numbers in 2020 were expected to exceed the 29 million passengers that sailed in 2019 by several million. For now, projections made by Statista show that passenger numbers will likely not exceed 17 million passengers.

It will be 2024 before we see anything like the numbers we saw in 2019. With ships sailing at 60-70% in 2021, even that number seems optimistic.

Cruise lines will need to maintain a balancing act between several extremes in 2021. On the one hand, the cruise lines will need to ensure that all measures, protocols, and regulations are executed correctly.

Then again, the cruise lines should also ensure that guests can enjoy their vacations. Not a single guest is waiting to be policed around a ship while guests in resorts worldwide can vacation freely.

Also Read: 15 Best New Cruise Ships to Begin Sailing in 2021

The resumption of cruising in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East are all positive points on the way to recovery. However, the absolute majority of cruising worldwide happens from the US. Before the virus is adequately contained and ships are sailing as usual, we cannot say the road to recovery has been taken.

The road to recovery, as is often the case, is a long and difficult one. It seems the road for the cruise industry is even longer and harder than other industries, and one that has the whole world looking on.

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