Cruising after Covid: New research on what people think of cruising and what they want, by The Cruise Examiner’s guest editor Jennifer Holland

by Kevin Griffin

Recent industry reports suggest cruise bookings are on the rise, with strong sales for 2022 and 2023. Travellers are rebooking cruises that were disrupted due to the pandemic and booking those bucket-list cruises.

But what happens after? Will the pent-up demand for cruising be enough? Will loyal cruisers be enough to fill the ships again?

Dr. Jennifer Holland - Cruise & Tourism Researcher - Industry Consultant - Secretary, Geographies of Leisure & Tourism Research Group (RGS) - Research Fellow, Royal Geographical Society - Social Media Editor, Tourism & Hospitality Research

Dr. Jennifer Holland – Cruise & Tourism Researcher – Industry Consultant – Secretary, Geographies of Leisure & Tourism Research Group (RGS) – Research Fellow, Royal Geographical Society – Social Media Editor, Tourism & Hospitality Research

Over the last few months I have been attending several conferences and trade shows and there is little mention of how nervous people are about cruising right now. Pre-COVID, cruises were perceived to be a ‘safe’ holiday.

However, a recent study out of the University of Western Australia <https://www.researchgate.net/project/Ocean-Cruising-after-COVID-19>, of which I was part of the research team for, reveals COVID-19 has changed how people think of cruise holidays.

New research reveals travellers in the UK and Australia are fearful of going on a cruise and 47% said they don’t trust the cruise lines to look after them if something goes wrong. The study found even loyal cruisers feel differently about cruising, as 73% of respondents said they are less positive about cruising now.

The cruise industry needs to acknowledge and address these perceptions in order to recover.
Pre-COVID, a new cruise ship was built every 47 days, leading to robust growth, but dependant on attracting new cruisers. This is now in question if cruise ships are perceived as unsafe. The cruise industry has created incredibly comprehensive health measures and protocols, as the ‘Safe to Sail’ panel and recommendations demonstrate.

And yet, the cruise industry has been vilified in the media, and more needs to be done to level the playing field as airlines, hotels and all-inclusives resorts are not being held to the same standard. The outbreak that occurred on SeaDream was widely reported, and yet, what about all the international flights that have confirmed cases onboard? Why is this not being reported in the media as well? For example, I found evidence of 54 flights with confirmed cases that arrived into Canada in the past 2 weeks and not a mention of this in any news reports, and yet the SeaDream was positioned as yet another example of how unsafe cruising is.

However, until we acknowledge that people are nervous about going on a cruise, the growth we all want to see return will be difficult to achieve. We need to do a better job educating the public and the media about the measures and acknowledge that people are worried, but address these fears with information and give cruisers what they want.

In our study, hundreds of people told us they will change the way they cruise. They want to book larger cabins with balconies, choose smaller ships with less people, cruise closer to home, want a guarantee of money back in case of cancellation. They also told us they will be researching the cruise lines more to determine health measures and medical facilities onboard, expecting more cleaning, wanting changes to ship design to ensure improved ventilation, considering a brand’s reputation, select itineraries that are perceived as COVID-safe destinations.

They want to avoid flying and plan to book direct and more last minute, and buy better travel insurance. Many said they would look at booking a river cruise instead for their next cruise. But unfortunately the majority of respondents said they would wait until it was ‘safe’ to cruise, which means we have a long way to go to change the current perception of cruise ships as ‘giant incubators’ (as one respondant said), when cruises are likely much cleaner and safer than any other form of holidays right now.

Personally, I would get on a cruise tomorrow, as I believe the cruise industry is far better at managing and preventing illness than any hotel, all-inclusive resort or airline and I would feel safer on a ship than anywhere else on earth.

Dr. Jennifer Holland
Cruise & Tourism Researcher – Industry Consultant
Secretary, Geographies of Leisure & Tourism Research Group (RGS)
Research Fellow, Royal Geographical Society
Social Media Editor, Tourism & Hospitality Research

Twitter: @jenniholland14
LinkedIn: Jennifer Holland, PhD
Web: www.jenniferholland.org

(Kevin Griffin is managing director of The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)

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