This time last year there was still a wave of uncertainty in the air about the future of the cruise industry. However, the sector has proven its resilience and is now in prime position for growth.
While the much-maligned industry has been forced to deal with more than its fair share of scathing headlines over the past two years, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) cruise lines have set the standard for Covid-19 mitigation, implementing enhanced protocols in order to resume operations safely and successfully. Here, president and CEO Kelly Craighead tells CFR more.
What has been your main focus since we last spoke in autumn 2021?
As we enter the third year of the pandemic, CLIA and our members have been working hard to build back operations to pre-pandemic levels. While the health and safety of crew, passengers and the places cruise ships visit remain the number one priority, our industry is also focused on leading the way in environmental sustainability.
In January 2022, CLIA released its annual state of the Industry report and demonstrated how the industry is driving innovation for a more efficient future. By 2027, CLIA’s fleet will have 26 LNG-powered ocean-going cruise ships and 231 of its vessels will be equipped with advanced waste water systems, 176 will have exhaust gas cleaning systems, and 174 ocean-going cruise ships will be fitted with shore power capabilities.
Please share your top priorities for 2022.
One priority is to get cruise capacity back to pre-pandemic levels by reactivating 100 per cent of the fleet by mid-summer 2022, allowing us to employ more than one million people and contribute billions of dollars to world economies. We also aim to continue leading the travel and tourism sector in Covid-19 risk mitigation efforts, and stay on course to achieve our goal of pursuing carbon-neutral cruising by 2050.
Can you tell us about any new sustainability projects CLIA and its members are working on?
Our members are developing innovative solutions to meet CLIA’s ambitious decarbonisation goals, and they are already having a significant impact. They include advanced recycling protocols, waste-to-energy initiatives, energy-efficient ship design, pursuing alternative fuels, supply chain sustainability programmes, and much more.
What is your perspective on the ever-changing guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?
A hallmark of this pandemic is its unpredictability. That makes everything difficult, especially navigating the intricacies of governments at all levels. Equipped with robust health and safety protocols that are unmatched in any setting outside of healthcare, as well as the data and analysis that demonstrates the effectiveness of this multi-layered approach, we have made tremendous progress. Approximately six million passengers have sailed on more than 200 ships in 86 markets since July 2020, including more than 100 ships that have returned to US waters, carrying well over one million people from a US port since late June 2021. Compare that to January 2021 when only 10 ships were back in operation. CLIA’s integrated government affairs and strategic communication efforts have been central to the industry’s success.
As we move towards Covid-19 being an endemic virus, we expect to see changing guidance from health authorities around the world. Our job is to ensure that decision makers have the evidence they need to make good, science-based decisions that are consistent with the shoreside practices that guide land-based travel and tourism.
The fast-moving Omicron variant caused widespread challenges in winter 2021-2022. How did the cruise industry respond and is it prepared for future variants?
There’s no doubt that the Omicron variant cast a great deal of uncertainty into the travel and tourism sector overall. However, CLIA’s ocean-going cruise line members are sailing with some of the highest levels of Covid-19 mitigation measures of any industry. Many introduced additional measures for Omicron, strengthening testing, mask-wearing and other requirements, and encouraging or mandating booster vaccine doses for eligible guests.
At the height of the Omicron surge, the hospitalisation rate on cruise ships was more than 80 times lower than on land in the USA. The PBI Research Institute’s analysis from 30 December 2021 to 12 January 2022 shows only five hospitalisations occurred among the more than 416,000 passengers and crew sailing in US waters – equivalent to 34 per 100,000 Covid-19 cases. In stark contrast, there were 269,067 new land-based hospitalisations in the USA during the same period, equivalent to 2,786 per 100,000 Covid-19 cases. Hence, those aboard cruise ships demonstrably faced vastly less risk of hospitalisation from Covid-19 than those on land in the USA.
The industry has all the measures and response mechanisms in place to keep sailing responsibly, and to execute contingency plans as needed to help keep people happy and safe as we resume operations around the world.
Do you think Covid-19 measures are here to stay on cruise ships?
We’re monitoring the circumstances around the pandemic closely and continue to make decisions by prioritising public health. While there is no crystal ball, I can tell you that the enhanced protocols are here to stay for the foreseeable future. I can also tell you that in January 2022, cruise ship review site Cruise Critic surveyed 1,563 travellers who had taken a cruise in the previous 90 days – during the peak of the Omicron wave – and 96 per cent said they felt safe onboard, while 88 per cent said they would sail again under the same circumstances.
How do you predict the global cruise industry will evolve? Are you confident that we will soon be back to normal?
The cruise industry has proven its resiliency throughout its more than 50-year history, and as operations continue to responsibly resume, passenger demand remains high. In the baseline forecast, passenger volume is expected to recover and surpass 2019 levels by the end of 2023. And in the upside forecast, passenger volume is expected to recover to 101 per cent of 2019 levels by the end of 2022. In both scenarios, passenger volume is projected to recover in excess of 12 per cent above 2019 levels by the end of 2026.
Thanks to the support of an incredibly strong community, the future is bright. Cruising is accessible, responsible and experiential – making it the best way to see the world for people of all ages and interests.
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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