Cruise industry: No smooth sailing after COVID | Business | Economic and financial news from a German perspective | DW
Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, cruises were the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry. Major operators including TUI Cruises, MSC and Aida posted strong profits. But when the pandemic hit, the industry almost came to a complete halt: Of the 400 large cruise ships usually operated by travel companies around the world, around 90% were docked.
Now the industry has recovered somewhat, with two-thirds of ships returning to sea. TUI Cruises was one of the few companies to continue offering trips from July 2020. It says that Currently, five of its seven flagship cruise ships are in service. But planning ahead is difficult, as holidaymakers are now opting for last-minute bookings, says company spokeswoman Friederike Grönemeyer.
Self-service buffets abroad TUI ships are a thing of the past
Strict hygiene measures in place
On a typical cruise, passengers and crew stay aboard a luxury liner for entire days. Companies have put in place a series of measures to minimize the risk of coronavirus contagion during such trips. Vacationers and staff must take COVID-19 tests before boarding and during travel, in accordance with Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) guidelines. To further reduce the risk of infection, buffets have been removed and masks have been made mandatory. The use of electronic key cards and smartphone applications, meanwhile, allows customers to be tracked to better stop infection chains.
Despite these precautions, several cruises run by Aida, TUI-Cruises and MSC had to be canceled this year when passengers fell ill with COVID-19. Only a handful of infections have been recorded, says spokeswoman Grönemeyer, who maintains that the hygiene measures put in place are proving effective. However, travelers wishing to embark on cruises will soon face even stricter rules. From February 23, a booster certification will be required for anyone who received a second dose of vaccine more than 3 months ago.
Earlier this year, Aida Nova got stuck in Lisbon due to COVID-19 cases
Full steam ahead
Cruise lines have been hit hard by the global coronavirus outbreak. In Germany alone, the number of passengers fell from 3.7 million in 2019 to 1.4 in 2020. In 2021, the industry came to a virtual standstill. Meanwhile, businesses face significant fixed costs for vessel maintenance and repair.
Although revenues and operating costs have diverged widely, many cruise lines and industry experts are optimistic about the future. “The [cruise line] the industry will grow even more,” Ulrich Reinhardt, a professor at Germany’s West Coast University of Applied Sciences, told DW. likely to come back for another, Reinhardt says.
Professor Reinhardt predicts steady industry growth ahead
Cruise industry boom could have benefits
Bernhard Jans, who has spent more than 20 years as a consultant and quality manager in the cruise industry, believes the sector will grow even further after the pandemic. “The ship itself will become the main attraction, providing a vacation experience [in itself]; it will become something akin to a resort with an amusement park feel,” he told DW.
Today’s cruise ships offer live entertainment, bars and clubs, sundecks and pools, and entertainment options for kids and teens. Often passengers will opt for all-inclusive deals that also cover food and drink. While the idea of spending an entire vacation aboard a cruise ship has grown in popularity, the pandemic is expected to accelerate this trend.
Many cruise ships are like floating resorts
In the past, boat cruises were a luxurious novelty for the few. Over the past 20 years, however, they have become an easily accessible vacation option for the masses, says Bernhard Jans. Their focus has shifted from targeting intrepid explorers to providing a floating resort experience.
Jans says the development should be welcomed as fewer hotels and amusement parks need to be built anywhere in the world. In this way, he argues, a lot of “nature and natural habitats can be preserved”. Tourists who want to see these places can come and visit them on their own, without having to board a powerful cruise ship.
Many cruise lines, meanwhile, are working hard to shed their image as big polluters. The latest generation ships are becoming more and more eco-responsible. Companies are buying ships with smaller, more efficient engines that can properly filter exhaust gases and sewage. It is also increasingly common for liners to use shore power instead of running their own diesel engine.
Time to rethink eco-responsibility?
Cruise lines “should use this [pandemic-induced] lull to address issues of sustainability and ecology, and to take criticism directed at the phenomenon of mass tourism seriously,” says Sven Gross, professor at Germany’s Harz University of Applied Sciences. More and more Germans attach great importance to these issues in everyday life and when planning a vacation, he told DW.
Professor Groß says incremental changes are not enough
TUI Cruises spokeswoman Friederike Grönemeyer agrees. “We have noticed that in recent years, customers have paid more attention to these issues when booking cruises but also on board when talking to the captain.” His company responded by giving passengers the opportunity to help reduce their environmental footprint, says Grönemeyer. They can use water dispensers instead of minibars and reduce the use of clean towels and linens.
While these developments are promising, Reinhardt doubts they will fundamentally change the nature of cruise vacations. “Holidays are a highlight of the year; vacationers want to relax and take a break from their monotonous lives,” he says. “That’s why most vacationers turn off their [environmental] conscience.” Most vacationers are only open to making green concessions “if it doesn’t diminish their enjoyment or cost them extra money.”
“Environmental protection and sustainability are not in the minds of [ordinary] cruise ship passengers,” explains Bernhard Jans. These questions are usually important for those who aren’t interested in such cruises in the first place, he explains. Still, he explains that cruise lines will benefit economically if vacationers feel they can enjoy cruises “without a guilty conscience.”