Expect Cruise Ships To Be Crowded Again Next Year

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With the COVID-19 pandemic seeming to have come to an unofficial end this year, cruising has come back in a big way. And, while that’s inarguably a welcome development among cruise enthusiasts, the drawback that’s approaching will be the end of less-crowded sailing experiences.

The cruise industry was arguably the hardest-hit segment of the travel sector amid the pandemic and seemed to attract the highest concentration of bad press whenever a COVID-related issue did arise aboard a cruise vessel.

All cruise sailings worldwide were halted altogether during the first phase of the global crisis. Later, they were allowed to operate only under stringent restrictions and precautionary protocols imposed by public health authorities, part of which meant sailing at severely reduced capacities.

In pre-pandemic years, most major cruise lines recorded occupancy levels of 100 percent or higher, according to The Points Guy (TPG), but 2021 saw ships operating at low-level occupancies of under 50 or, sometimes, even 30 percent. While cruise lines felt only the financial losses, cruise-goers enjoyed unusually uncongested sailings.

With the lifting of masking requirements and travel restrictions (and given the problems still plaguing the aviation sector), travelers have begun comfortably cruising again, which means fuller ships. For some cruise lines, in some regions, guest occupancy has already returned to normal levels.

Reports on current occupancies and forecasts have been offered by executives of multiple major cruise companies in recent days, said TPG. Several big-name brands have said that their fleets should be sailing at full occupancy by early or mid-2023.

A line of docked cruise ships. (photo by Codie Liermann)

Last week, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and CEO Frank Del Rio reportedly told Wall Street analysts that he expects occupancies across the company’s fleet of 29 ships increase steadily over the next six months to reach levels of 100 percent or higher by summer of 2023. That would be a substantial improvement over the average 82 percent occupancy its ships saw during the three-month period that ended October 31— a figure which was itself up from the 65 percent average recorded during the three months previous. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ brands include Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises.

During a third-quarter earnings conference call, Del Rio said, “We expect load factors to continue improving sequentially to the mid-to-high 80 percent range in the [current quarter]…and the steady occupancy ramp-up is expected to continue until we reach historical 100 percent-plus levels beginning in the second quarter of 2023.”

Only days prior, Royal Caribbean Group’s chief financial officer Naftali Holtz told Wall Street analysts that the Group anticipates its cruise brands’ occupancies will return to historical levels by spring of 2023. Royal Caribbean Group’s subsidiaries consist of Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises. The company also owns a partial stake in European lines TUI Cruises and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.

Royal Caribbean Group’s fleet finished 2022’s third quarter with 96 percent occupancy overall, up from the 82 percent occupancy seen in the second quarter, but still down from the pre-pandemic normal levels of over 100 percent.

Carnival Corporation & plc, the largest global cruise company, is also predicting it will see 100 percent occupancies across its fleet by summer of next year. Across its nine cruise brands, Carnival Corp. reported 84 percent occupancy during the summer months of July through September, a significant improvement over the 69 percent occupancy average recorded during the three months previous.


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Source: TravelPulse


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