Skift Take

It's still an unpredictable road ahead for the major cruise lines eyeing the rebound of U.S. consumer confidence. Travel restrictions are indeed easing for its top region in demand, the Caribbean, and more cruisers are making plans. But they're also remaining cautious.

As travel confidence bounces back in North America, so is the desire of cruisers to return to the seas, even after a tumultuous two-years of stops and starts, as well as dramatic pandemic outcomes for the cruise industry. 

A remarkable 60 percent of consumers say they are actively planning to cruise in the next two years, with over half heading out in this spring and summer — but over two-thirds indicate a preference now for luxury cruises over megaships. Megaships won just a quarter of the votes and came in second, with river cruises in the third spot.

Those are the key results of a new survey on U.S. consumer sentiment about cruise travel this year from Arrivia, a travel technology and marketing solutions company. The data was collected from 1,500 cruises between November 3, 2021 and January 10, a time of increased uncertainty in travel with the Omicron spike. 

What the demand points to is a promising cruise season for the luxury cruise sector this spring and summer, with ongoing uncertainty surrounding megaship travel.

But the increased desire to cruise hasn’t trumped safety needs. Over half of all survey respondents said they would want safety measures on board to feel safe, which include all of the following: vaccinated staff and passengers, social distancing, masked staff and masked passengers.

Dreaming big for cruisers is also translating into the majority looking not at cost but at value, according to the survey results. There’s a desire to cruise for longer, and an interest in the Caribbean as restrictions continue to lift and ease — ranking in the top spot with nearly half of respondents choosing the islands over Europe.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updated its Covid guidance with a voluntary “opt-in” program for cruise companies, while maintaining that it was best to avoid cruise travel. So far 112 ships have signed up for the CDC’s program, which includes all three major cruise lines — Royal Caribbean Group, Carnival Corporation and Norwegian Cruises. Cruisers can now consult a ship’s CDC color status to make informed decisions on health protocols and Covid cases on board. 

Just over 40 percent of respondents are choosing to sail in the second half of the year, showing there is caution amid the optimism, but even those plans could also change rapidly. With ongoing lagging vaccination rates in parts of both the U.S. and the Caribbean, coupled with an uncertain global tourism climate as a result of Russia’s war on Ukraine, means the road remains bumpy ahead for the cruise lines.

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Tags: coronavirus recovery, cruise industry, cruise lines

Photo credit: Cruisers are more confident about cruising but sentiment can shift quickly in uncertain times. Jared / Flickr Commons