There is no denying that working onboard a cruise ship had been a dream for thousands, maybe even millions of people worldwide. The promise of making lots of money, seeing the world, and not having to pay for food or rent made cruise ships one of the most popular job choices for those looking to expand their horizon.
However, once the pandemic broke out, one thing became painfully apparent. There is no job security when it comes to working on cruise ships.
A recent survey of 1,011 cruise professionals by Faststream, a global employment agency for the maritime industry, showed that more than 50% of the crew members in the hotel department onboard cruise ships lost their jobs during the pandemic.
It highlights the recent problems cruise companies have had with finding enough crew members to work onboard, with cruise cancelations and lower maximum occupancy levels as a result.
Has the Bubble Burst?
During the pandemic, the cruise industry went through one of the biggest crises in history. No one escaped the financial hits from ocean-going cruise ships and expedition vessels to river cruise ships.
In an industry ruled by temporary contracts, one group of people suffered more than any, the crew members.
A recent survey conducted between March and April 2022 by maritime employment agency Faststream showed that 39% of seafarers working in the cruise industry became unemployed between 2020 and 2022. Although deck and engine departments were less affected with 31% and 24% respectively, 53% of seagoing crew members lost their jobs in the hotel department.
Kelsey Purse, Director of Shipping for Faststream: “When cruise operations at sea became unviable, many positions were simply not required. If there are no guests, the people required to work in hotel and guest services diminishes, so too in the galley.“
“On the other side, the vessels must continue to be maintained and so deck and engine professionals were still needed to ensure the proper upkeep and safety of the vessel wherever it was berthed.”
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Of that 39%, only 60% returned to work for the same employers when the ships started sailing again. A staggering 40% did not return at all to sea or started working for a new employer.
There are many reasons why this is, but one reason above all. In an industry where crew members are only given a contract for the time they are on board, there is no safety net for the crew once ships stop sailing.
The job security that many had seen as a given fell away all-of-a-sudden. 71% of the respondents to the survey felt concerned that they had no job security in the cruise industry.
Mark Charman CEO & Founder of Faststream Recruitment: “The pandemic made people lose jobs in many cases, not because of their performance, motivation, or work ethic, but simply down to operations being unviable. However, unemployment feels personal, no matter the reason and I think the statistic of 71% of those who became unemployed being concerned about their job security just shows the impact it can have.”
The fact that they were unemployed also meant crew members had to find new employment, and many did. In fact, so many found employment shoreside that cruise companies are having trouble finding the crew needed to run the ships.
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But that’s not all. Rising inflation, salaries being kept on the same levels, stress, problems with rotations, shore leave being denied, and COVID-19 infections all add to crew members choosing to find new employment instead of returning to sea.
In fact, 82% of the respondents in the survey said they would be looking out for new jobs within the next 12 months.
Impact on Crewing the Ships
In the last few weeks, we have seen the effects that the crew issues are already having on the cruise industry. Two cruise lines reported they could not get enough crew members on board to run their ships effectively, Cunard and P&O UK.
As Cruise Hive reported on May 12, Cunard has canceled cruises for some guests to be able to limit the number of guests on board its ships, citing crew shortages.
The cruise line stated: “As you may have seen in the news, the wider impact of COVID-19 is affecting hospitality and is disrupting airlines and as such this is impacting the number of crew members we are able to get to our ships.”
On April 10, P&O Cruises canceled seven sailings of its cruise vessel Arcadia, just days after the ship’s restart. This was done in order to redeploy crew members to other vessels.
P&O Cruises responded, “The current and extraordinary impact of COVID-19 in the UK, in the wider hospitality, service, and airline industry as a whole, has resulted in a temporary disruption to crewmembers available to join our ships.”
The question now is what will happen later this year once cruise lines plan to start ramping up occupancy levels to 100% if there is not enough crew to man the ships.
As one respondent said, I believe we need a breath of fresh air in this industry, especially at the top. We need people ready to take the sector into the 21st century. I feel at times we are still doing business as if it were the 1970s.
The cruise industry has long been an industry where hard work and dedication were rewarded handsomely. Something that many crew members seem to be missing currently. The cruise lines will need to ensure that the crew has the right environment, job security, and benefits that will entice them and stay there.