Will people want to cruise again? Who will and who won’t?
There is such conflicting information out there about what’s happening with cruising moving into next year, in terms of whether people are booking or not. One the one hand, we’re seeing lots of reports from online cruise travel agencies talking about cruising bookings for 2021 looking really strong. On the other, cruise lines are talking about future bookings being pretty weak, with real concerns around whether they’re going to be able to attract enough people on their ships. They’re issuing financial updates, particularly to the SEC in the United States, as they’re raising money to improve liquidity to cover them over the shutdown.
Both of those can’t be right, can they? Well, I think they probably can – a lot of it depends who you’re focusing on. So, let’s take a look at the five different types of cruisers and why, I think, we’re seeing that conflicting information.
One of the big things overarching all of what happens with cruising is what’s increasingly becoming known as “cruise-shaming”. There’s been an enormous amount of negative publicity towards the cruise lines and the role of cruising. The media especially been quite aggressively anti-cruising, creating that new expression of ‘floating petri dishes’ that everyone’s banding around. The cruise lines and the Cruise Lines International Association haven’t really been able to find a way of really getting a grip on the narrative, and I think they’re going to have a really big challenge to overcome it.
First of all, let’s talk about frequent cruisers: people who have been on 10, 20, 30, even more cruises. They, undoubtedly, will return to cruising, and they are the ones that are out there today, looking for deals in 2021. They’re eager to know when the shutdown will end because they want to get back on a cruise. Most of them will have future cruise credit from cancelled cruises that they’re now looking to spend as soon as they possibly can.
Those people are clearly out there looking for cruises – they’ve lost many of the cruises they’ve got planned for 2020, and they’re looking to fill up their 2021 schedule, so they’re looking out for any deals, and they’re booking cruises. Those people will keep cruising and – very importantly – they also really understand the whole cruising process. They know the sanitation process; they know the procedures… they’re probably much more flexible with regard to the changes coming around the way that we cruise.
They’re also probably the people that are most likely to be booking with their agents, so they’ll be talking to them, trying to use their future cruise credit, trying to move things around and get things booked. So, I think this is why, particularly, we’re seeing a lot of the cruise agencies seeing quite a positive build of cruise bookings.
The second group – a real challenge for the cruise lines – is the people who’ve, perhaps, gone on one cruise, at a push maybe two cruises, so they’ve tried cruising, but don’t cruise very often, and they need to decide if they will get back on board a ship. I think they’re going to be more of a challenge because of all the negative publicity, and what I’m seeing, both in forums and in comments on my channel, is this group of people’s biggest concern is what happens if they get quarantined?
They’re very nervous about the stories coming from the shutdown period where ships were not being let into ports, and people were being quarantined on ships for long periods of time, often for weeks. They will worry about the spread of disease around the ship – I think that’s really spooked people. So, although they’ve been on a cruise and would probably come back as part of their repertoire of vacations, I think they’re going to be less inclined to return to cruising and maybe even looking at land-based holidays.
Some of those, of course, would have loved cruises, but certainly what I’m seeing is that these are the people who are pushing really hard to get money back, rather than future cruise credit. Here in the UK, the Independent newspaper did a survey looking at people who cruise a lot and people who cruise infrequently and a very large percentage of those were saying that they would not go back cruising, either forever or certainly for a long time.
So, I think that’s part of the challenge, and you can probably see why, because cruising was only a little part of their mix of vacations.
The third group – and this is where I think the cruise lines are probably more worried than anywhere else – are the people who’ve never cruised but were considering a cruise.
Cruise lines have historically been extremely aggressive at recruiting new-to-cruise. That was really the life blood, bringing people onboard a cruise, getting them hooked on cruising. Most of their marketing spend, and the work they did with agents on promotions and incentives was all around attracting new-to-cruise business.
Every time I talk to a cruise agency, they’re obsessed with new-to-cruise, because clearly with frequent cruisers, once people are on board, the future cruise people can normally do a good job of cross selling people onto their next cruise.
I think this is why we’re seeing the cruise lines talking about demand being so weak, because a big part of their strategy was to bring those new-to-cruise people on. And those are the people who are going to potentially be spooked by the current situation and driven away from cruising.
They don’t know how cruising works, they’ve seen all the negative stories, and that cruise-shaming issue will be a challenge. Their friends and family will be saying ‘are you sure you want to go on a cruise?’ And this is where I think we’re going to see a huge fall off in demand as getting new-to-cruise passengers on a ship is going to be really hard.
In my view I don’t even think that great deals will overcome their reluctance to get onboard a cruise ship, certainly for a pretty long period of time.
Cruise not for me
The fourth type of cruiser, and one that the cruising industry probably doesn’t really worry about as much, are the people who would never cruise. They’re saying, ‘I will never go on a cruise ship’, and there are two groups of people there.
The first group are people who think that cruising is not for them, because they think it’s only for old people or it’s for people who are not very adventurous and want, really, a safe way of travelling. They see themselves as being much more adventurous, or they want to do much more of a deep dive and go off the beaten track. Those are the people who never saw cruising as something for them, and all the stuff that’s happened will only reinforce their perception.
The other group, of course, are people who absolutely despise cruising, they think it’s a terrible thing from an environmental and over tourism perspective, or they just think it’s dangerous. And I do see a lot of both of those groups of people, commenting on all of my stuff about how much they hate cruising and how they think it’s a terrible thing, and want cruising to go away in its entirety. So, those people will never cruise and aren’t fundamental to the cruising industry turning things around.
Another group that is of really big concern to the cruising industry are those senior travellers, particularly those people over 70, who are probably holding back or nervous about booking, because in the whole run-up to the shutdown, a new rule was brought in where those people and also people who are more vulnerable had to get a medical certificate before they were allowed to board a cruise. That was originally introduced in the US, it then spread into the UK and other cruising regions and is not going to go away, I don’t think.
So, if you’re over 70, at this point in time you have to get a medical certificate. With many cruise lines, of course, the bulk of their passengers are older passengers, and during the course of the year are a fundamental part of the whole cruising process for many itineraries, particularly out of school holiday season. I think those people are going to hold back cruising until they really understand the procedures for them to get back onboard, and how safe it is.
I also think that many of those will not go back to cruising. What percentage they are, I don’t know, but I think, certainly, in the next year or so, a lot of those will hold back, not least because many will be shielding or self-isolating way beyond when younger people are allowed to go out.
As you can see, the answer to the question ‘will people cruise again?’ depends on many factors. In some areas we’re going to see people ready to go back cruising and in others, I think, increasingly people are going to say no to cruising. I do believe this is going to be a massive challenge over the next year or 18 months for the cruise lines who have a huge amount of capacity built on a growth industry.
A lot of people are going to be nervous about booking, and how they deal with it is going to very interesting. I think over time, part of the reaction we’ll see will be better pricing and deals. But that’s really only going to get the diehard cruisers on board. They have to get the narrative back, once it’s really clear how cruising is going to work, and they have a lot of work to do to convince people that cruising is a great option for travel. I am, of course, in that first group: I love cruising, I know how cruising works, I can see how they’re going to figure it out over time and will be one of those people who will be booking and getting back on cruising.
But it’s a massive challenge. Will people cruise again? It depends, is, I guess, the answer.
I have loads of tips, advice and points of view about cruising videos, so why don’t you watch another one of those right now?
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