As 2021 nears its conclusion, thoughts have turned to what next year will bring. Gary Peters looks back on the last 12 months and asks: is 2022 the year the cruise industry fully recovers?
Quite how it is time to close the book on yet another year is anyone’s guess. This year has flown by with frightening speed; it seems not long ago that the industry welcomed 2021 with cautious optimism thanks to the beginning of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
Then, as the year progressed into spring and early summer, there was the great domestic cruise extravaganza, as lines were finally able to get guests back on board – albeit on UK-only itineraries with reduced capacities.
“It’s a period we can all be proud of. The commitment shown by so many people working in the sector and the trade – as well as across UK ports, local authorities, health bodies and the government – means we are now at a point where UK and international cruise operations are responsibly resuming around the world,” says CLIA UK & Ireland director Andy Harmer.
“Great credit must go to the trade for expertly highlighting to customers the advantages of travelling on a domestic cruise.”
As Harmer highlights, the success of domestic voyages has imbued the sector with renewed vigour, and the general public has been able to see just how safe a cruise holiday can be.
So now, as more and more destinations open and cruise lines – and cruisers – become more accustomed to enhanced on-board safety measures and testing – what might 2022 hold?
The cruise recovery: Not out of the woods
What is clear from speaking to many across the sector is that despite being in a much better place than this time last year, there is still a long road ahead, with diversions and problems very much a possibility in 2022.
“Recovery is going to be a slow process – there is no doubt about that,” says Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson. “The global industry cannot fully recover until the world is completely reopen for tourism, which may take some time yet. It will also be a long journey to rebuild the connectivity that was lost to the pandemic – particularly regional routes.
“However, I believe that if confidence continues to grow and the world keeps opening over the coming months, 2022 could set a very strong foundation for a faster and more efficient recovery in the years that follow.”
A-Rosa UK & Ireland MD Lucia Rowe – who describes recent times as “a roller coaster of ups and downs, of hopes and dreams and of emotions running high” – believes the industry needs to come to terms with a new normal.
She says: “We all know that the winter months can have an impact on Covid numbers. However, for me it is imperative that the travel industry recognises that this is simply ‘normal’ and we need to work hard to continue to build confidence and hope that summer 2022 is as near to normal as possible for everyone, if not better.”
Similar thoughts are forthcoming from Panache Cruises founder & MD James Cole, who states that cruise is “still some way from fully returning”, however he adds: “The restart is well underway with well over 50 per cent of the world cruise fleet set to be back by the end of the year.
“2022 is likely to continue the positive momentum but undoubtedly we will also need to expect to encounter some hurdles as the world learns to live with Covid.”
Demand for cruise is likely to be boosted by new ships arriving in 2022, across all segments of the industry. Think Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas; Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Beyond; Arvia, from P&O Cruises; A-Rosa Sena – which will feature the E-Motion concept to reduce emissions, or the luxury and expedition-style vessel, Seabourn Venture.
All these ships – and many more beside that – will again be cruising internationally. As Celebrity Cruises UK & Ireland director of sales Claire Stirrup tells CTN: “After having so many travel restrictions over the past year, it’s definitely time to turn those bucket list dreams into a reality.
“We have lots to look forward to in 2022, with seven of our ships exploring almost 100 different destinations in Europe.”
A digital 2022?
With new ships in 2022 comes new opportunities for the trade to maximise their sales. One selling trend – accelerated by the enforced lockdowns and pause in operations – is digital.
While there is undoubtedly a desire to return to face-to-face conversations and ways of working in some quarters, tech expert Peter Whittle – fresh from the recently announced merger of CruiseAppy and digital agency, iprogress, to form DTMG – says next year will continue to see a shift to mobile and online-based operations.
He explains: “70 per cent of all online cruise research now takes place on a mobile device, and 87 per cent of 50 to 75-year-olds regularly use a smart phone, the prime cruising audience. This is set to grow further in 2022.
“The days of blanket emailing customers with a range of common cruise offers are long gone. It’s about understanding customer needs in real time and presenting the most appropriate cruise offer to them, with relevant flight, hotel and excursion options – so, hyper personalisation.”
While this is certainly the case, it can be argued it would be unwise for the industry not to pair a digital drive with a more traditional approach.
Dobson highlights: “People have already returned to their local high streets to book their holidays – heightening the role of the travel agent. I think we’ll see more collaborations and partnerships between suppliers and retailers as a result.”
Cruise collaborations, and challenges
Collaboration is one of the buzz words of the moment, but as the curtain closes on a frustrating, tiring, yet overall constructive year, it seems that caution remains the name of the game.
“I’m sure we’ll see some good steps towards full recovery, whether or not it’s back to 2019 levels is yet to be seen,” says Scenic Group UK director of sales Joseph Grimley. “Capacity may become an issue as demand increases, which is why it’s important for guests to book early.”
The theme continues – CLIA’s Harmer also references a similar thought: “The signs for 2022 are encouraging and we’re looking forward to seeing our partners across the industry continue that positive momentum.”
However, Barrhead’s Dobson takes a slightly different tack. “In my opinion, the biggest challenge will be fulfilling the recruitment needs in the travel industry. There is an impending recruitment crisis that has come because of the pandemic.
“Many young people who would have otherwise started a career in travel over the last 18 months have not done so. We need to work together to ensure the industry is promoting why a career in travel is rich and rewarding.”
Yes, there are challenges to face, but as more ships take to the sea, and the industry continues its marketing push across multiple channels – not least through the trade – 2022 need not be a year to fear; instead, it is one to welcome and one in which cruise can thrive again.