Sailing into recovery

While international cruises has yet to resume in Asia, recent positive developments coupled with cruising’s buoyant growth in the region pre-pandemic point towards a bright future for cruising, says Kelly Craighead, global president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)

Domestic cruises have resumed in a safe and calibrated manner in some parts of Asia like Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, following the pandemic fallout. However, international cruising is still off the table in the region. How is CLIA working with governments to address new challenges relating to Covid-19 and facilitate a responsible return to international cruising in Asia, and when do you foresee that happening?
Asian markets like these have not only been pioneers in establishing their own cruise revival, but they have also provided enormous insight that is helping our industry to progress resumption in other countries. Our industry is closely engaged with governments and health authorities in many locations to help implement the health measures that will make further resumptions possible.

It’s difficult to predict exactly when developments like international sailings might return to Asia, but there are already positive signs like the recent announcement that Singapore and Malaysia will collaborate on cruise operations between the two countries. This is the sort of phased, regional approach to resumption that we have seen as a precursor to entire markets opening.

What is your main focus for 2022?
To date, cruising has resumed in more than 80 countries worldwide and around 72 per cent of the global CLIA cruise line ocean-going fleet is now back in operation, with stringent new health measures in place.

Our focus in 2022 will be on extending this revival into other countries and regions, while at the same time, remaining responsive to the latest developments in the pandemic and the most current medical insights. Health and safety will remain our primary objective.

At the same time, we will also work to address other challenges and responsibilities in areas like environmental sustainability and destination stewardship. Once again, our partnerships with governments, destinations and other stakeholders will be key to our success in these areas.

What are your predictions for the future of the cruise industry, both globally as well as in Asia?
Almost 30 million people sailed on ocean cruises globally in 2019. We have some work ahead to return to these sorts of numbers, but I think we have the ability to achieve this sooner than many people realise. Our capacity projections already suggest a return to pre-pandemic levels in a relatively short time.

We are a resilient and responsive industry, and we have proven that we are a highly responsible industry when it comes to upholding the health and safety of our guests.

We also have an extraordinarily large and passionate following of cruise fans who are keen to sail whenever they have the opportunity.

Given the growth we have seen in Asia in the years before the pandemic – and the sizeable markets that still hold great potential – I think we have excellent long-term prospects in this region.

Several cruise lines have noted that the cruise rebound has been driven by not just experienced cruisers, but also first-timers. Is this a trend that you see continuing into 2022, and what more can be done by the industry and travel agents to tap into this segment of consumers?
Restrictions and difficulties around other forms of travel have created a great opportunity to attract new-to-cruise guests, and there’s certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest this has been very successful in markets like Singapore. We may indeed see this continue in 2022, not only locally but in other markets around the world.

As international travel has become more complex and difficult, there is an excellent opportunity to highlight the ease and care that guests experience aboard a cruise. From room service and daily housekeeping to the highest levels of Covid-19 mitigations, including state-of-the-art medical facilities on board, cruising is the best way to see the world.

What positive changes has the pandemic brought about for the cruise industry that you foresee will prevail in the long run?
Without doubt, the past two years have created an extraordinary resilience and spirit of collaboration that runs through all areas of our industry – from the cruise lines to travel agents, ground operators, ports, destinations, suppliers and many other stakeholders in the cruise economy. This unity and ability to rally around common goals will be our strength in the future.

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