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The Remarkable Post-COVID Comeback of the Cruise Industry

The cruise industry all but came to a standstill during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with widespread cancellations, concerns over health and safety, as well as a damaged reputation. 

As the big ships slowly returned to the seas over a year later, it presented a unique opportunity for the cruise industry to adapt, rebuild, regain the trust of the public again, and shake off the negative media attention it received during the pandemic. Fast-forward to now, the cruise industry is making a remarkable comeback, having a positive impact on the economy and seeing record-breaking numbers.

Tapping into the Influencer Community

One way cruise lines achieved this success is by employing clever marketing and PR strategies in a bid to reshape the public’s perception of cruising. Partnerships with influencers and popular TV shows, such as Virgin Voyages’ appearance on The Bachelorette, contributed to their comeback and renewed interest in cruising.

In an effort to boost their post-pandemic recovery and attract a wider audience, cruise lines invited millennial influencers on board to showcase the cruise experience to a younger demographic, therefore expanding its appeal to people of all ages and challenging the stereotype that cruising was solely for older individuals. These efforts seemed successful, as record-breaking bookings have been reported for the upcoming cruise seasons in 2023 and 2024.

According to the Cruise Lines International Association, an estimated 31.5 million tourists are estimated to embark on cruises this year, resulting in passenger volume surpassing levels seen pre-COVID. This number is only set to increase, making cruising one of the fastest-growing sectors in the tourism industry. 

Occupancy rates, as reported by cruise lines in their financial releases, are skyrocketing and breaking records, especially in North America and Europe. Many cruise liners had a 100% occupancy in the first quarter of 2023, up from just over 50% in the first quarter of 2022.

A Summer to Remember

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Image by David Sacks

Cruise lines are also enticing travelers with attractive discounts and promotions for the upcoming summer vacation season, and it’s working. Customers are realizing that in comparison to the escalating costs of airfares, hotels, car rentals, and other vacation essentials, cruise lines are providing relatively affordable options and may just be the perfect option.

Alan Fox, executive chairman of Vacations To Go, the world’s largest seller of cruises, told Outdoors.com: “This summer, more people will cruise than ever before. [. . .] A cruise has always offered a tremendous value compared to a land-based vacation due to the economies of scale that come with providing meals, accommodations, transportation, and entertainment for hundreds or thousands of people at one time. Now the gap is wider than ever as hotels and airfare prices are at all-time highs, while cruise prices closely resemble those in effect in 2019, pre-COVID.” 

Many online cruise sellers are witnessing significant increases in bookings, with Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic, telling us: “We’re continuing to see strong bookings for cruises, especially around Alaska and the Caribbean this summer, as well as for drive-to ports, which eliminate that need for extras like airfare and hotels.” 

Interestingly, there has been a sharp increase in demand for travel to exotic places like the Galapagos, Antarctica, and other harder-to-reach regions, as people want to embrace these unique destinations.

Impact on Local Economies

The return of cruise ship tourists to port cities has brought a positive and much-needed boost to the economies of tourism-dependent communities around the world that were particularly hard hit during the pandemic.

Cruise ships bring a wave of tourists to coastal destinations around the globe, and these visitors spend money on things like tours, dining, shopping, transport, and local attractions. Local businesses are experiencing a boost as cruise passengers disembark and seek unique experiences during their port visits. 

Impact on the Environment

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The cruise industry has faced criticism in the past for its environmental impact. Cruise ships are known for their large carbon footprints, air emissions, and waste generation. However, there is a growing awareness among cruise lines and a push to actively work together toward sustainability and environmental responsibility.

Cruise companies are adopting greener initiatives and investing in eco-friendly technologies to minimize their ecological footprint. Many cruise lines have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, implementing cleaner technologies like advanced wastewater treatment systems, and exploring alternative energy sources. 

There is still a lot of room for improvement, though, and cruise lines are still working to improve waste-management practices, reduce single-use plastics, and promote sustainable shore excursions. 

In a bid to minimize ecological impact, promote responsible tourism, and preserve the destinations they visit, some cruise operators are shifting toward eco-conscious itineraries and visiting less-crowded destinations. They are also working together with local communities and environmental organizations, which should play a pivotal role in achieving responsible and eco-friendly operations in the long run.

Impact on Stock Prices

The return of big cruise ships has also caught the attention of investors, making cruise lines the biggest movers on the U.S. stock markets in the last quarter. The promising resurgence of bookings for future cruise sailings has bolstered stock prices, attracting both seasoned and new investors to the industry. This surge in interest is fueled by growing confidence in the industry again, as investors witness the industry’s resilience and adaptability.

The post-COVID comeback of the cruise industry has brought significant positive impacts to local economies, reigniting tourism and business activity in coastal regions and port cities. The record-breaking numbers seen in the industry’s return is great for businesses and travelers, whilst also prompting a greater focus on environmental sustainability and responsibility. 

It seems there has never been a better time to cruise.

Have you taken a cruise post-COVID? Tell us in the comments below.

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