The 2020s were meant to be a boom decade for cruises. Nineteen new ships worth more than $9bn were due to launch this year alone. However, Coronavirus has dealt the cruise ship industry what looks like a crippling blow.
The 338 ships that make up the industry’s fleet are docked.
Governments have issued “no sail” edicts and the majority of the 32m passengers that the Cruise Lines International Association projected would sail this year are stuck at home. The halt on operations is due to last until at least August with ghostly ships marooned in harbours in what is known as “warm lay-up”, where systems are kept running to make sure that none seize up, the Financial Times reports
During the first quarter of 2020, there were 9 cruise liner calls until 10th March 2020, after which cruise liners were no longer allowed to berth in Malta because of COVID-19 health restrictions. This figure is 12 less than the number of cruise liner calls that was recorded during the same quarter last year. On average, every vessel that berthed in Malta carried 4,464 passengers, 747 more than the previous year. Transit passengers accounted for the absolute majority of total traffic. Passengers from EU Member States comprised 53.5 per cent of total traffic. The major markets were Italy accounting for 22.8 per cent of the total passengers, followed by France and Germany with 10.7 per cent and 6.3 per cent respectively. The total number of passengers from Non-EU countries stood at 18,663, of whom 15.4 per cent came from the United Kingdom and almost the same amount (15.0 per cent) came from the United States.
The industry — which says bookings for 2021 are almost at the same level as they were this time last year — is now looking to rebuild public trust with new health and sanitation measures.
But Martin Luen, a banker specialising in travel at Baird, an investment bank, warns that it will be a slow return to growth: “Sectors at the scene of the car crash are rarely the first ones to recover.” Travel and tourism businesses are under immense pressure ahead of the crucial summer season in the northern hemisphere. And even though the cruise ship companies have an unusually loyal customer base, eager to travel again, the risks of catching coronavirus and the added impact of social distancing rules at sea place an unusual burden on operators.
Of the three largest cruise companies, Carnival says it has 32,000 crew awaiting repatriation and Royal Caribbean says it has returned 26,000 of its 77,000 shipboard employees and is “hopeful that all remaining crew members will be home by the end of June”. Norwegian Cruise Lines did not respond. Their efforts, they say, have been hampered by port closures and global travel restrictions that threaten to kill this summer’s holiday season.
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