Watching the U.S. news outlets condemn cruising, it’s easy to think the industry could be in serious trouble.
The setbacks are not all in the rear-view mirror, yet. Even today, the single remaining cruise ship to debark its passengers, the Greg Mortimer, sits anchored off the coast of Montevideo, Uruguay, pending final approval to repatriate the remaining 15 guests onboard. To make matters worse, the Centers for Disease Control (2020) recommends that “travellers defer all cruise travel worldwide.” A no-sail order.
Despite the grim outlook, the compelling reasons vacationers choose to cruise are not likely to change.
Cruisers are loyal to their vacation style. Once they have graduated to the diversity of activities, the sea air, the dazzling onboard entertainment and service found on a cruise ship, they are converted for life. For most, the thought of reverting to a land-based vacation afterwards is inconceivable. It’s a mindset acquired by crossing through a one-way door, one with which all veteran cruisers are familiar.
Cruisers also recognize that the vessels themselves are immaculate. Ships are polished, scoured and scrubbed all day long from bow to stern. Walk a promenade deck on any liner and you will encounter several crew members doing this work. Cabins are carefully cleaned and disinfected twice each day. Hand sanitizer is stationed at the entrance and exit of every public area. Floors are endlessly mopped. Moreover, cruise lines operate with an abundance of caution when it comes to cleanliness, it’s their stock-in-trade.
Next, cruise passengers tend to be more open-minded than average. It’s why they decided to cruise in the first place. As a result, they are more inclined towards adjusting their viewpoint when presented with new information. The current anti-cruising landscape may compel this group to pause and consider next steps, like all of us, but it is unlikely to prevent them from cruising again. Once things have returned to relative normalcy, these travellers are likely to view cruising with no more concern than visiting a restaurant or travelling through an airport.
It must also be said that cruise companies are outstanding marketers. Customer retention can reach 50 per cent or more for a typical mass market sailing, and can hit the mid-90's for the more luxurious brands. This is no accident. Cruise lines stay close to the customer as a matter of course through direct marketing campaigns with special offers targeting return guests. While this direct-to-consumer approach can be a pain point for the travel agency community, it nevertheless creates a halo effect for the industry as consumers are reminded early and often to cruise again. Being close to the customer in times like these will position cruise companies particularly well for the post-pandemic phase and boost the travel industry besides.
Perhaps most importantly, price reductions in the market will encourage cruise loyalists to continue booking early. We are already seeing the evidence of this. According to Arnold Donald, the CEO of Carnival Corporation in his CNBC interview this week, “We’ve had substantial bookings. Bookings for 2021 are strong.” Carnival Corporation is comprised of nine of the most recognizable global cruise brands, so a clear trend is developing.
The U.S. media will surely continue to sensationalize the trials and tribulations of the cruise industry, but news cycles are notoriously brief and public interest, short-lived. What remains will be the allegiance of the cruiser to their much-loved nautical vacation.
Dana Gain is a global sales and marketing executive with a 25-year career in the cruise, airline, hospitality and internet sectors.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, March 17). COVID-19 and Cruise Ship Travel.
CNBC Markets. Health and Science. (2020, April 14). Carnival CEO: Despite ‘devastating’ coronavirus outbreak, cruise bookings for 2021 are strong.
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