By Kelly Craighead, President & CEO at CLIA – Cruise Lines International Association
As travel industry representatives, we all can appreciate that the global pandemic has presented us with extraordinary challenges—this is certainly true for the cruise industry.
Prior to the pandemic the cruise industry was a dynamic and highly successful driver of economic growth. In 2019, cruising supported more than one million jobs worldwide and contributed nearly 155 billion dollars in global economic output, with almost 30 million people taking an ocean cruise, including nearly 4 million people from Asia—making Asia the world’s third largest cruise market.
But with the onset of the pandemic, cruising—along with most other areas of the travel industry—came to a complete halt. This took an enormous toll on the wider cruise community. Each day of the suspension translated to 2,500 jobs lost worldwide, including seasoned cruise executives in crew, travel agents, tour operators, transport workers, port workers, food and produce suppliers, maritime service providers and so many more.
As hard as our sector was hit, during the initial emergence of COVID-19, our response has been equally hard-hitting.
During the unprecedented pause in operations, CLIA and cruise line members joined with some of the most respected medical experts in the world to develop and implement enhanced COVID-19 measures that are among the most stringent to be found in travel and tourism.
In fact, the cruise industry was the first to globally mandate 100% testing of all guests and crew. Our approach involved a complete bow-to-stern examination of our operations, and a response that covers the entirety of the cruise experience—from the time a guest books their cruise, until they return home.
The measures now in place, include a combination of vaccination and testing requirements for guests and crew, as well as detailed shipboard protocols involving enhanced medical capabilities, sanitation procedures, advanced air filtration methods and health monitoring.
These measures also extend well beyond the confines of the ship, ensuring close engagement with governments and port communities as part of prearranged response plans.
The result of all of this work and training has been a careful and phased resumption of operations that has been both responsible and successful.
Markets in Asia helped lead the way in this regard. In Singapore and Chinese Taipei as well as Hong Kong—close collaboration was swiftly established between health authorities, cruise lines and other stakeholders to achieve this controlled return to service.
This early success provided invaluable insight that helped bring other regions back into service, including Europe and the UK, the United States and the Caribbean.
In fact, almost 2 million passengers have already sailed successfully—many aboard cruises that were operating with effective health protocols in place even before the widespread availability of vaccines.
Moreover, all of these efforts serve as an important model in other locations, such as Asia and Australasia, where work with health authorities and governments continues as we strive for a full resumption of cruising.
To that end, currently, about 56 percent of CLIA’s global cruise line capacity is back in operation, and this is projected to reach about 80 percent by the end of December.
This translates to 220 ocean-going ships that will have come back into service by the end of the year. Now, make no mistake this is an enormous achievement.
Importantly, what all of this tells us, is the new health protocols are working, and that passengers are enjoying their cruises just as much as before.
Our data supports this—confidence among travellers is increasing with 85 percent of cruisers say they are likely to cruise again in the next few years—that figure is back to pre-pandemic levels.
In Asia, the sentiment is even stronger. Among Asian cruisers, 90 percent say they will cruise again in next few years—that’s the highest level of any region in the world.
Even among those who have never cruised before, 78 percent of Asian travellers say they will consider a cruise in next few years, which is also the highest rate in the world.
These and other indicators give us every reason to be confident in our future and in the long-term resilience of the cruise market.
But we still face tests and responsibilities that will require a great deal of further dedication.
The Future of Cruise Industry
Having reinvented our operations in response to a global health crisis, we must also continue our reinvention in a range of other areas.
Key among these is environmental sustainability and destination stewardship.
Our work in these areas is critical as we strive to be leaders in responsible tourism. In the environmental space, we are committed to protecting the oceans we sail on, the air we breath and the communities we visit. This commitment has continued steadfast, despite the pandemic.
Cruise lines in our network have made a fleet-wide commitment to reduce their rate of carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030, and to date have invested more than $26.5 billion in ships with new technologies and cleaner fuels to reduce emissions and achieve greater efficiencies.
Advances including alternative fuels like LNG, technology like Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems and initiatives like Advanced Wastewater Treatment Systems are not only making significant reductions in our own environmental footprint, but are also setting a high bar that can be translated through the rest of the maritime sector.
Another important area of focus is our responsibility to engage in proactive destination stewardship, an approach that balances and meets the needs of a destination and its communities.
In conjunction with bodies such as the World Travel and Tourism Council, the UN World Tourism Organization, and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council; cruise lines have been engaging with port cities to analyse issues and find solutions.
Pioneering work in locations like Juneau, Alaska and Dubrovnik, Croatia show what can be accomplished when industry and port communities work together.
As we move forward, we need to continue to engage with port communities, understand their needs and achieve genuine benefits that support our mutual aims.
This brings me back to our industry’s response to COVID-19.
Above all else, the single greatest factor that allowed the industry to overcome many of the challenges of the pandemic thus far has been an open and productive partnership with the complete spectrum of stakeholders who form cruise community.
Together with suppliers, travel agency partners and other supporters, we have united around common objectives and achieved an incredible amount in a short amount of time.
Now we need to build on this and apply it to other challenges we face.
- We need to advance even more public and private partnerships.
- We need to have greater alignment with other travel sectors to create a seamless traveller experience.
- We need to educate each other and consumers to be environmentally conscientious travellers who are sensitive to other communities and cultures.
- And we need to actively correct the record whenever we encounter those persistent myths that negatively impact the cruise industry.
Moving forward, we will draw enormous confidence and inspiration from what we have already overcome these last many months.
As we look ahead, the elements that will define cruising success are the same elements that we deployed in our pandemic response. That’s innovation, collaboration, partnership and commitment.
Our task now is to apply these same elements and approaches across the other challenges that we face.
Until then, we as an industry need to welcome support and partnership as we all strive to get back on track and create an even brighter future for all of the industries that make up travel and tourism.