The COVID-19 crisis has had devastating impacts on the global tourism industry. The cruise industry has been particularly impacted. Some are wondering if cruise tourism will ever recover due to the reputation damage caused during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis that has resulted in a potential loss of consumer confidence. 

This leads us to the question:

Will the cruise industry recover?

Consumers have a love for cruise holidays. This is a unique way of seeing and experiencing different people and places. We predict that the cruise industry can recover if it focuses on implementing fundamental changes to health and safety onboard the ships and effective communication to restores consumer confidence.

The speed of recovery is difficult to determine, but is essential as cruise tourism is an important part of our visitor economy. It is particularly important to regional tourism destinations as often when the ship docks in a port in a regional city and the passengers disembark and explore the region, this provides a major stimulus to local businesses.

Visitor economies, such as Eden in New South Wales and Kangaroo Island in South Australia, are key regional cruise tourism ports in Australia. They have been hit with the double-whammy of bushfires following by the COVID-19 pandemic. Restoring cruise tourism to these regional destinations is vital to rebuilding the tourism economies in these regions, restoring jobs and making businesses, that rely on cruise tourism, viable again.

What will the cruise industry have to do to recover?

The cruise tourism industry and destinations will have to work closely together to restore consumer confidence. Simply discounting cruises will not be enough.

The industry will have to address several factors to restore confidence including:

  • Health and safety onboard the ships. In particular, the ability of the cruise lines to manage health crises and ensure the health and safety of their customers onboard the ship and a safe journey home. Destinations will also have to consider ways to be better prepared to manage the healthcare of visitors who become ill, particularly if there are many cases of illness, as we have seen during the COVD-19 pandemic.
  • Processes to better manage an event and get sick people home if a similar crisis occurs in the future. Giving people peace of mind they will be looked after no matter where they are in the world. Consumers will want to see evidence of this change before they book.
  • Insurance for passengers, by working with the insurance industry to improve cover, should a passenger get sick during their cruise holiday. 
  • Flexibility. Allowing customers to change a booking or get a refund should circumstances change or they simply change their mind.
  • Marketing and communications. The cruise industry will need to boost marketing efforts to remind consumers why they love cruising – how this form of travel is unlike anything else. It will be particularly important to communicate how they have addressed the above-mentioned factors and made changes to make cruising a fun and safe experience.  

Cruise tourism is an important part of the tourism industry in Australia and around the world, particularly for regional and remote destinations. Rebuilding the cruise industry is strategically important to rebuilding the tourism industry.

What we have seen in the past is that when travel restrictions are removed, travel confidence returns pretty quickly. In this case, the time spent at home may mean that the appetite for travel is even greater and we may see a similar travel boom as was experienced post-World War II.

Cruise tourism will certainly play an integral part in the recovery of the tourism industry after the COVID-19 pandemic.