Covid's multi-year blow has pushed the world's major cruise lines into efficiency overdrive – pruning ships, reducing ports of call, and expanding offshore islands to boost onboard revenue. But mounting global environmental pushback stifles the growth of mass cruise tourism.
In January 2021 we released our annual travel industry trends forecast, Skift Megatrends
. Because of the havoc that the pandemic triggered, we wrote Skift Travel Megatrends 2025 as a vision of how travel industry dynamics could play out five years from now. You can read about each of the trends on Skift, or download a copy here.
Years after overtourism became a pressing issue, followed by the cruise-shaming trend that emerged post-Covid, crowds are back on megaships in 2025, and cruise lines returned to generating billion-dollar earnings. But the nature of the cruise industry’s business model had to undergo major shifts to make that happen.
The world’s biggest cruise companies have been recouping their extensive losses up until this point by merging with other lines for greater efficiency. The result? Big ships offer roller coasters on their decks and additional outsized activities continue to surface to help drive up onboard revenue. Ports of call are fewer, as cruise lines reduce their dependence on them, and instead focus on the growth of their private islands, particularly in the Caribbean.
Why offer shore excursions when one can sail to one’s own private beaches while keeping 100 percent of the revenue in cruise coffers? Besides, the lines still lure cruisers with the promise of safety bubbles on these private islands, and many prefer staying put at sea rather than venturing into multiple ports.
Destinations that were once heavily dependent on big ships are dealing with fewer port calls, and focusing on niche offerings from smaller lines. These niche cruise players emerged from the cheap post-Covid divestiture and sale of older ships that debuted in the 2000s. “It’s a repeat of what we saw in the 1990s, when there were some upstarts bringing on vintage ships and offering niche kinds of products,” said Ross Klein, a veteran cruise industry expert and professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
The travel bucket list isn’t going anywhere — port cities that faced overtourism pre-Covid continue to face the conundrum of whether to reject tourist crowds in 2025 after suffering a debilitating multiyear downturn. They’re using innovative ways to control the crowds, such as higher day-tripper fees like the ones Venice approved back in 2020.
The Green Years
What’s for sure? 2025 is greener. “More people are willing to be sensitive to environmental issues and not rebel at the notion that perhaps there’s something wrong with cruising and it has a negative effect on the environment,” said Jim Walker, a Florida-based maritime attorney who runs Cruise Law News. One of the biggest environmental fights that cruise lines continue to face in 2025 is their use of scrubbers, long found to cause cancer-linked discharge in ports, pollute waters, and otherwise negatively impact marine life.
Port citizens in North America and Europe, in particular, with localized movements and solid political partnerships, are making more headway in the passing of environmental legislation banning scrubbers. But the influence of broad-based coalitions such as the Global Cruise Activist Network, born during Covid, remains uncertain.
“If past history is an insight, the activism will continue losing some of its potency,” Klein said, explaining the power of the cruise industry to push back against these efforts. After all, Key West, Florida’s big win against mass cruising back in 2020 resulted from decades of militant activism that began in 2003.
Meanwhile, 2025’s headlines report that the cruise industry’s major players are making financial gains. Those funds will come in handy for the heap of looming environmental bans and regulations, potentially signaling the beginning of the end of megaships.
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Photo credit: Windstar Cruises crew source vegetables at a market in Mallorca, Spain. Windstar Cruises