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‘Cruise passengers will change the way they travel after Covid’

Cruise passenger research reveals trends for the future

Jennifer Holland, a tourism and cruise researcher at the University of Suffolk, discusses the findings from her latest research project.

I have spent years researching how risk perceptions influence cruise holiday decisions and I recently interviewed passengers who were on board ships in March 2020 that were disrupted because of the pandemic.

Many told me they felt safe on the ship, with one participant saying they felt “safer on board than anywhere else on earth”, and fully trusted the cruise line to look after them.

Now, a new research paper – developed with a team I’m working with at the University of Western Australia – reveals that Covid-19 has changed the way many people think of cruise holidays.

We surveyed 613 people living in Australia and the UK, including experienced cruisers and those who had not been on a ship. We asked them how they felt about cruising – and if this had changed because of the pandemic – how soon they wanted to cruise, and any changes they might make in how they book.

The majority in our sample did report feeling some anxiety about going on a cruise. What this tells us is that even with pent-up demand and the fact that people are desperate to get back on board, we can’t take loyal cruisers for granted.

There are silver linings from the study. Hundreds of people told us they will change the way they cruise, and many of these changes are great opportunities for travel agents and cruise lines.

Respondents said they plan to book larger cabins with balconies, upgrade to suites more often, and choose smaller ships with fewer people.

They want to cruise closer to home, which is fantastic for UK domestic cruising, and they want itineraries to ports that are perceived as Covid-safe destinations. In addition, guests are looking to purchase better travel insurance.

Guests will undertake more research

Now, more than ever, guests will look to research the cruise lines to determine what health measures are in place and what the medical facilities are like on board.

Several respondents said they will be considering a cruise line’s reputation and plan to research how the line handled the pandemic. They are expecting temperature checks, more cleaning, more signage and changes to ship design to ensure improved ventilation.

Many said that if the price was right, they would cruise sooner, and good deals would entice them back more quickly. They also said they want more guarantees and protection in case of cancellation.

River cruising is also growing in popularity, and our respondents highlighted they may book a river itinerary for their next holiday.

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

The industry can lead the tourism sector forward and show how travel can be done safely, communicating the legacy of experience and professionalism that is at the heart of this sector.

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