Challenged by COVID, the cruise industry looks to vaccine for relief

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2020 was a catastrophic year for the cruise industry delivering losses in the billions of dollars as a result of pandemic related shutdowns, constant cancellations, and scrapping of older liners to save on upkeep costs.

With an estimated fleet of 400 cruise liners worldwide, most were left lying at anchor last March while executives eyed plans for what they hoped would be a quick return to “normal”. The once booming industry is still struggling to bounce back a year later, but is buoyed by the hopes of an effective vaccine and a population of loyal “cruisers” committed to partaking in their favorite leisure activity – luxury cruising.

Port traffic and the pandemic

This video depicts cruise line traffic in the North Atlantic Ocean. Note the busy areas around popular ports.

We wondered what port traffic looked like around the world for cruise liners, so we pulled our data to take a closer look. The next chart show the sharp decline in cruise liner traffic in April when most of the world was under strict shelter in place plans implemented in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. This chart further illustrates the drastic reduction in Port Calls across all nations surrounding the North Atlantic and Caribbean waters. This data demonstrates how universally destructive this period of time has been for the cruise industry – no country has been spared.

The next data chart shows unique MMSIs of all cruise vessels traveling in the North Atlantic and Caribbean waters. The graph indicates there was a marked decrease in vessels traveling around these areas after the COVID lockdown. Over the last few months, after news of a successful vaccine was announced, you can see some stabilization in the fall. Based on the trend from November 2020 to January 2021, vessel traffic in the Caribbean remains steady at a drastically reduced volume.

Vaccine delivers hope, renews efforts to get back to work

With vaccines rolling out worldwide, cruise companies are readying to sail again with stringent COVID-19 sanitation processes implemented. Cruises currently require a negative COVID test before boarding a ship, masks are a must, and passengers and staff are asked to adhere to strict hygiene procedures. Capacity on ships is capped at 60% of normal passenger numbers and in many ports, passengers are not permitted to leave their ships. Ports of call that allow passengers to disembark come with a long list of rules. Any deviation from these rules results in not being allowed back on the ship. Many speculated that the goal of these “cruises to nowhere” was to rebuild trust in cruising and prove that the industry has gone the extra mile to keep passengers safe. And while the test cruises proved they could curb COVID cases, the lower number of passengers is a losing proposition financially for the cruise industry.

This chart shows the number of cruise ships at port per month. Note the steep decline in countries where COVID outbreaks were higher than average.

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Stay tuned as we will continue to follow the cruise industry’s return to normal operations post-COVID. Download the free data sample and get hands-on experience working with our data.

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