Record Numbers of Cruise Passengers Returning as Industry Rebounds from COVID-19
Cruise industry leaders are cautiously optimistic as passengers return to their favorite ships, and tourism worldwide drives record numbers of cruise passengers from North America, particularly the Caribbean and the Bahamas. While a full recovery is expected to come later for places such as Australia, which reopened its economy after the United States, and Asia has been slow to recover, there have been unprecedented increases in occupancy and rates in the hotel and resort business. A panel of executives from cruise lines and ports painted a guarded but optimistic picture for tourism worldwide, while the multi-day Seatrade gathering, which is expected to attract 20,000 industry professionals, 80 cruise brands, and over 4,000 suppliers from 140-plus nations, is likely to be a marketing and promotional plus for Broward County’s seaport, the No. 3 ranked port in the world, which considers cruising as one of three major contributors to its business alongside cargo and energy imports.
While the pandemic almost destroyed the cruise industry three years ago when cruise lines voluntarily suspended sailings worldwide as COVID-19 spread aboard ships, sickening countless passengers, the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry trade group, projected a “full recovery” for the industry from COVID-19 this year, when passenger volume was expected to “surpass 2019 levels by the end of 2023.” Senior vice president of Princess Cruises, Terry Thornton, said North America took the lead as the main source of major market recovery while others lagged for various reasons, citing Europe sourcing as still somewhat challenged, particularly due to the war in Ukraine, while Asia has just started to return. However, customer volume and pricing in tourism, particularly in hotels and resorts worldwide, have been surprisingly strong.
New ships are also on the way, with 17 entering the worldwide market this year and 66 by 2028, and new operators are entering the business, including those with special themes and niches. Additionally, older, less efficient ships are leaving the industry’s fleet as new vessels come online, adding up to strong advance bookings and occupancy, as well as healthy pricing.
The port of Everglades is continuing to position itself as a major player in the industry, with nine cruise lines and a ferry service to the Bahamas currently using the port. More than 3 million passengers are expected to pass through the seaport during its fiscal year 2023, with the port scheduled to become a second home for the Disney Cruise line starting this fall. Port Everglades CEO and Director, Jonathan Daniels, attributed the comeback to a sweeping collaboration among all the players associated with the industry as they struggled with issues ranging from protocols to safeguarding customers against COVID-19 and recalibrating their itineraries. “All of us are in this together. If we do it singularly, we are going to fail,” he said.