The cruise industry bounced back to (almost) pre-pandemic levels in 2023. Courtesy of larger ships and impressive value for money, 2024 is set to be an impressive year. Calum Brown explains why.
In the past, terms such as ‘cruise travel’ and ‘youth’ went together like ice cream and gravy. In short, cruises were seen as exclusively marketed to the nouveau riche.
However, that was then. This is now, and things have changed. Cruising now accommodates everyone from all walks of life.
The entire seascape is now open to the young – and the young at heart. Not to mention all budgets.
Engaging with the industry
The pandemic certainly caused financial mayhem. As Covid-19 unpacked its bag and settled in, the likes of Cruise & Maritime Voyages and Pullmantur Cruises became a casualty of war.
However, the cruise industry returned stronger than ever. International tourism receipts breached the $1 trillion mark in 2022, up 50 per cent in real terms from 2021 and driven by the rebound in global travel.
Most cruise ships are back sailing at full capacity, feeding a market growing so fast that experts predict 2024 will literally become ‘the year of the cruise’.
“People are keen to explore the world after so many years of disruption and cruising enables them to do this in a way that delivers choice, value and convenience,” explains Bolsover Cruise Club’s Emma Furze.
“What we are seeing is considerable demand for cruise holidays both in the short and long term.
“The world has opened back up again, so some of the countries that largely remained inaccessible to cruise ships during the pandemic are now open for business – and operators are making sure there are itineraries to take people there.”
Mundy Cruising director of sales and marketing Alex Loizou also follows that mantra – explaining: “With little to no testing required, an end to the bothersome passenger locator forms and no additional requirements of guests on board, cruising is now over the major challenges of the pandemic.”
In fact, wherever you go and whomever you ask, the answer is the same. The cruise industry has conquered the ripple effect caused and arguably capitalised on the situation.
Vast improvements have been implemented across the landscape to attract those new-to-cruise guests, with upgraded itineraries between brands fighting for attention.
Not to mention a slew of new vessels. It’s an amazing time to engage with the cruise lines and people know it; especially when browsing the cost.
When delving behind the travel headlines, inflated prices for both flights and hotels have created an affordability crisis.
The cruise industry exploits that rather neatly, offering excellent value – providing an all-inclusive holiday in a safe environment. That sentiment hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Value for money combined with the vast choice of offers to entice new guests is set to attract those who have never sailed before. Plentiful promotions by the cruise lines will drive new-to-cruise passengers to consider the options available,” says InteleTravel UK MD Tricia Handley-Hughes.
Furze adds: “At a time when household budgets continue to be squeezed, holidaymakers will be looking for breaks that provide just that. When you break down the cost of a cruise on a per person, per night basis – and you consider what is included, from the accommodation to the food and entertainment – there really is very little competition.”
Loizou also points out that “realising the quality equals or exceeds that of many ultra-luxury hotels” plays a big part in the recent spike in cruise bookings for 2024.
“New players in the market, such as Ritz-Carlton, have helped raise the profile of cruise,” he adds. “The new ships of Silversea, and new brands like Explora Journeys, demonstrate a forward-thinking sector that is throwing off an unfair image that it’s a stuffy environment in which to travel.”
And, as Kieran Eccles-Miller of Magical Traveller highlights, why pay for cotton when you can have silk? “Travel has always been high on people’s priority list. Luxury holidaymakers are keener than ever to explore the world in the utmost comfort. The increased focus on the destination experience has helped attract even more people to cruise.
“Superb programmes and itineraries mean that whether guests are looking for an expedition voyage to explore Antarctica, the Arctic or Galapagos, or want to visit local growers and producers to gain an unrivalled insight into the local cuisine – there’s a luxury cruise to suit.”
Something for everyone in 2024
So, cruising is back in fashion, offers incredible value for money, and the luxurious experience is second to none. And that’s great – but there’s more.
With new ships entering the market possessing the capacity of a small city, those cabins need to be filled – creating fierce competition between suppliers. As the deals keep ships packed with holidaymakers, it’s expected to attract more people than ever for 2024.
Throw in a range of new and ground-breaking itineraries, voyages to lesser-known ports in lesser-explored parts of the world, alongside fresh refits, and there’s enough to appease both seasoned cruise guests and newbies.
“The best part is, there really is a sailing to suit everyone – from thrill-seeking families, to adventurous solo travellers, to couples looking for a relaxing getaway – they’ll all find an escape they love,”, Cruise.co.uk’s Tony Andrews tells us. He also summarises three big factors in 2024’s expected growth curve.
“Firstly, the number of newcomers sailing on a cruise has more than doubled compared to last year. Secondly, the boom in solo holidays continues apace. Thirdly, we’re still seeing an uplift in demand for ‘cruise and stay’ breaks, with North American holidays proving most popular.”
And so, a renovated and well-oiled industry is ready and willing to accommodate thousands of extra people for brand new itineraries.
The last two years have demonstrated that guests can’t get enough cruise action, but 2024 should prove that a cruise package increasingly bought by the heart can also be justified by the head.