What 2023 may bring for the cruise sector

The beginning of another year brings with it hopes and dreams for what might come in the cruise sector. Gary Peters reports.

Don’t look too far back. The memories of the pandemic are still fresh. The virus is still among us, but regular, daily lives have been restored for millions, and many of those people have either returned to cruising or taken one for the very first time.

So, look forward, says the industry with quiet confidence, for 2023 has the potential to be great.

“The industry is steadily recovering, with all indications that the number of annual cruise passengers in 2023 will surpass 2019 levels,” says CLIA UK & Ireland MD Andy Harmer.

“More than 20 new ocean ships are set to launch, which we’re eagerly anticipating. From familiar lines to new ones, from luxury to expedition vessels, there will be an incredible range of choice to suit customers.”

Cruise holidays: Booking an inside cabin or a guaranteed cabin can help save money. Credit: Shutterstock

Harmer is not the only one who thinks next year could get close to, or match, 2019 – those heady pre-pandemic days when everything was pointing up.

Speaking about Cruise Circle, MD Jason Daniels explains: “I feel quietly confident Cruise Circle will have a strong 2023. We’re getting close to having our river cruise product ready for market in the coming months, our repeat business is as strong as ever."

A similar message emerges at Mundy Cruising. “For Mundy Cruising and Mundy Adventures we’ve already surpassed our pre-pandemic numbers being 20 per cent up compared to the same time in 2019,” says sales and marketing director Alex Loizou. “We are expecting this growth to continue into 2023.”

From a port perspective, Portsmouth International Port passenger operations manager Andrew Williamson says it is “seeing a positive response, with strong enquiries from the luxury boutique sector of the market from both new and established names in the industry”.

Cruise in the Mediterranean during the spring and summer for the calmest seas. Credit: Shutterstock

Trending cruise itineraries

Much of this growth is fuelled by new ship launches, as Harmer references, and key booking trends, some of which are likely to remain for the foreseeable future.

Windstar Cruises UK & Ireland business development manager Anna Perrott outlines the desire in the UK for “bucket-list itineraries being booked much closer in”.

She continues: “There also has been the expectation of grander and longer cruises in the luxury space, which is why we are now offering an epic 85-day Grand European Bucket List cruise, taking guests on a new voyage spanning 22 countries through the Baltic, Northern Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Sea.

“Customers are also spending a lot more money on board the ships on drinks, spa treatments and shore excursions and this is one of the reasons that we now give our guests the choice to go all-inclusive when they book their cruise.

Discover the serenity of French Polynesia. Credit: Shutterstock

“We’re also seeing increasing demand for French Polynesia,” adds Perrott. “Interestingly, we are seeing record numbers of guests new to the brand as travellers discover the advantage of small, yacht-like sailing and all-suite cruising to aspirational destinations.”

For CroisiEurope, next year brings “new repositioning coastal and ocean cruises from the Moroccan coast and the Red Sea to the Mediterranean”, says UK sales director John Fair.

“[We also have] a hotel barge cruise from the Petite Seine to the Yonne, two new hiking cruises in the Canary Islands and Corsica, and a new Christmas markets cruise between Strasbourg and Basel.”

Cruise passengers are looking to save money. Credit: Shutterstock

Work to be done

New itineraries are appealing, but there is plenty of roads still to be navigated.

Mintel director of travel research Paul Davies explains that the organisation does expect the cruise market in 2023 “to continue to recover from the damage caused by the pandemic”, but adds that “the value of the market is unlikely to return to its pre-Covid level until around 2025”.

“Cruise operators are reliant on affluent consumers, who are in a better position to make up for missed travel opportunities,” he says. “The pandemic has also acted as a call to make long-standing travel dreams come true.”

He adds: “With demand still falling short of its pre-pandemic level, operators would be wise to focus on ways to increase average selling prices in order to cope with rising costs.”

Cruise and tourism researcher Jennifer Holland believes that “2023 will be a strong year for cruise, with all ships back in service and most itineraries at capacity”.

The 702-passenger Azamara Pursuit offers an elegant all-inclusive experience. Credit: Azamara

However, she adds: “I don’t think we will see record breaking passenger numbers yet above 2019 levels as I think that will be 2024 at the earliest, and more likely not until 2025 to reach over 32 million passengers globally.”

At the time writing, money – or more specifically the cost of living – is a hot topic for many. People are feeling the pinch in their pockets and economic stability has become headline news.

Davies argues that this “will make it more challenging to convert interest from first-timer cruisers into bookings and convince them that a cruise holiday offers value for money”.

A challenge, yes, say the experts, but one that the industry can overcome with hard work and shouting from the rooftops about the level of inclusions on board and what guests get for their money.

Loizou says: “Continued weakening of sterling will see pricing increase in travel, as in other areas, so those who are more price sensitive need to feel that they are getting even more value from their purchase. We need to continue to offer our clients more.”

About Gary Peters

Gary is an experienced cruise journalist and editor who has been at the helm of Cruise Trade News since 2019. In that time, the brand has focused on investigative journalism and long-form feature content. Gary has also overseen the launch of new digital publications. Prior to joining Cruise Trade News – initially as deputy editor in 2018 – Gary worked in music and sport journalism, and as a senior editor for B2B magazines in the transport and environment sectors.