Until recently, cruises were the fastest growing sector of the travel industry. In the past five years, the demand has increased by 20.5 percent. In the global cruise market, there are over 50 cruise lines and more than 270 ships, however, just around 75 percent of the market is controlled by three main players. These leading companies oversee an empire of subsidiary cruise lines, collectively bringing in $34.2 billion in revenue in 2018. For decades, travelers have flocked to ports to start their vacation journey aboard a cruise ship, but cruising as we’ve come to know it may have changed thanks to COVID-19. The industry has come to a standstill and the boats are in dry dock.

The No Sail Order

Earlier this year the Centers for Disease Control issued a no sail order for all U.S. cruises. This was the first time the agency had issued a travel ban on a specific type of travel rather than travel to a geographic area. Initially, they didn’t ban this mode of travel and simply recommended against it. However, the advisory became a strict no sail order when it became clear that companies and passengers weren’t canceling.

Although some agencies believe that cruise operations will resume by 2021, the no sail order was extended on July 16 to last through September 30, 2020. The demand for cruise travel is still there and studies show that reservations for 2021 are up 40 percent compared to 2019. The coronavirus hit the cruise industry hard. More than 100 ships had outbreaks on board with nearly 3,000 people, including hundreds of passengers, becoming ill according to the CDC. Records show that Carnival was most affected, followed by Royal Caribbean. Only 15 of the 121 cruise ships that entered United States waters after March 1 were not infected.

Changes to Cruise Lines

Cruise lines aren’t oblivious to the impact that coronavirus has had on the industry. All of the major cruise lines have increased their cleaning methods and added hand sanitizing stations. They’ve also eliminated self-serve buffets. Many are loosening cancellation policies and offering credits for future cruises. Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, allows cancellations for up to 72 hours in advance and is allowing rebooking of cruises until March 31 of next year. If you don’t cancel your cruise, they are offering a $100 to $200 per cabin onboard incentive based on the length of your cruise. Norwegian Cruise Lines is offering a full credit with cancellations and credits for future use are good through December 31, 2022.

The Future of Cruises and The Cruise Industry

When cruising finally gets the green light, it is certain that many things will need to be changed. Will cruising ever be what it was before? Some people are still hopeful, but here are just a few of the anticipated changes:

  • Strict Health Screenings – This will, of course, take place at the first port of call. Changes will need to be made to offer strict passenger screenings, how public spaces are laid out and how shore excursions take place. Boarding procedures and quarantine arrangements are also going to have to be planned for. Regular temperature checks, increased on-board medical facilities, and improved air filtration systems are also likely to be mandatory.
  • Dining Disruptions – Whether you love them or not, self-serve buffets so popular on cruise ships may become a thing of the past. It’s likely they will be replaced by table service or crew-manned serving stations. Reservation systems may also be placed to restrict capacity in dining areas.
  • New Technology – Cruise ships may be forced to employ new technology such as sterilization robots to ensure sanitation standards. The safety of the tourism industry will be dependent on cleaning systems and higher hygiene standards.
  • Smaller Travel – Cruise ships are notorious for the large numbers of passengers they can accommodate, but the pandemic may create a new demand for smaller operators such as river cruises and expeditions. People are more likely to want to be closer to the beach, closer to nature, and ready for smaller-scale travel.

Post Pandemic Optimism Prevails

While the cruise ship industry’s response to COVID-19 was criticized, companies large and small adapted quickly. By all indicators, cruise ships still have a demand for their services and that isn’t likely to slow down any time soon, which makes many involved in the industry optimistic about the future. Although there is still a no sail order in place and tours have been canceled, many customers have simply rebooked their cruise and plan to start later in the year. As of this month, passengers are already sailing again overseas. Early data shows that bookings for 2021 are up about 15 percent overall due to a variety of factors related to the pandemic.

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