As international travel has slowed and flights continue to reduce much focus has been on International airlines and their financial sustainability. However there has been relatively less analysis about the Cruise Industry and what it may look like post COVID-19?
Reviewing the numbers
2020 was initially forecast to be a record breaking year, with 32 million cruise passengers worldwide but this has quickly unravelled with numerous onboard outbreaks and governments scrambling to deal with ships entering their ports.
Carnival Cruises, the largest ship owner in the category, hosted 47% of all passengers in 2018. The company also been one of the hardest hit with Diamond Princess quarantined in Japan with 700 passengers contracting the virus onboard. Carnival’s share price has been punished, diving over 52% since January. However the company has unlocked a US$3bn credit facility and is raising a further US$6bn in stock and debt options. Carnival is in a sound financial position and has more ships coming into commission in 2020, and a low debt to equity ratio of 45%, less than half of its nearest competitors. (Source: CNBC Report)
Compassion & Empathy
Whilst high numbers of passengers in close proximity, sharing pools, bars, restaurants and accommodation quarters have been a cause of such high transfer rates of infection, Cruise ships themselves may offer some support to help countries deal with additional beds and hospital facilities required. Carnival, Royal Caribbean and NCL Norwegian have all offered their ships as floating hospitals to help the US deal with a shortage of hospital beds, particularly in the larger problem areas like New York.
Fear of further contagion and treatment of crew, aboard these vessels remains an ongoing challenge, and one that must be dealt with compassionately. At the time of writing the Ruby Princess, docked in Port Kembla, Australia has had over 140 positive tests for COVID-19 and further crew testing and treatment is preceding the vessel’s planned departure for Sunday 19th April. (Source: The Illawarra Mercury). When the ship does leave it will return to US waters, like many of the Carnival Cruises fleet.
Contribution to economic recovery
Looking forward, the value the Tourism Industry may contribute to economic recovery across the world should not be underestimated. According to a study by the World Travel and Tourism Council (Source: WTTC Economic Impact Report) Asia was the fastest growing tourism region generating approximately US$3.6 Trillion towards GDP in 2019. Looking at Asia Pacific, International visitor spend contributed $548 Billion of investment across the region roughly equating to 6.6% of the regions total exports. Tourism is also one of the regions fastest growing employment categories creating over 21 million new roles or 56% of all new jobs globally. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has also highlighted the contributions the cruise industry makes to the US economy in terms of investment and employment. (Source: CLIA COVID19 Toolkit)
The cruise industry is a vital artery for the U.S. economy, supporting over 421,000 American jobs, with every 30 cruisers supporting one U.S. job, and annually contributes nearly $53 billion to the U.S. economy. Cruise activity supports travel agencies, airlines, hotels and a broad supply chain of industries that stretches across the United States.Adam Goldstein, CLIA Global Chairman
When travel restrictions are lifted and cruising make its return, Carnival cruises could be well positioned to cater for a new generation of cruising customers. The company has survived previous challenges such as outbreaks of SARS, MERS, eColi and the Global Financial Crisis and has always bounced back, stronger than before. At the time of writing, the company is offering significant credit incentives to re-schedule cancelled cruises and heavy discounting for late 2020 and 2021. This price discounting will continue with more cruise capacity forecast into the Australian market for the September 2020 to March 2021 cruise season.
Despite previous challenges, cruising as a tourism experience provides opportunities unlike other forms of travel; the ability to visit a number of countries, experience 5-star dining, cocktail bars, live shows and evening entertainment for a competitive, all-inclusive price. These types of benefits position the category well for an economic recovery, specifically appealing to budget conscious and younger travellers. Additionally, after several months of social distancing and working from home, short getaways of 2-3 nights, may be welcomed as the new form of domestic cruising people are looking for. Flight Centre already promoting a number of short coastal cruises from Australia’s major capital cities. (Source: Flight Centre)
Indicative of this emerging category of new customers, Virgin Group is launching Virgin Voyages and 2 ships in Aug 2020 which will cater towards millennials and young professionals, offering an upmarket and adults-only experience, with the potential to completely re-position the category.
The time to travel will return, and when it does it may look significantly different that it did previously. The Cruise Industry is well positioned to cater for shorter duration getaways, departing via closer to home ports, eliminating the need to fly, and catering to an emerging generation of younger and price-conscious travellers.