Dan Richards is CEO of The Global Rescue Companies, the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services. He serves on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board at the U.S. Department of Commerce and is a Global Member of the World Travel and Tourism Council.
The cruise industry took a big hit during the pandemic. But now travelers are casting off in record numbers, in a post-COVID cruise comeback. Far surpassing 2019 levels and breaking sales records, cruising, like most tourism sectors, is reaping the benefits of “revenge travel”— vacationers making up for the time that was lost during the pandemic.
Surveys and booking resources data uniformly forecast cruises to continue their robust return to the seas. According to an AAA survey, 52 percent of respondents said they are as likely or more likely to consider a cruise today as they were before the pandemic, a 45 percent increase from a year ago. The Global Rescue Traveler Safety and Sentiment Surveys reveal a steady, and increasingly robust, post-pandemic return to cruising.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better start to 2023," said Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners. She added that 2023 departures are up 22 percent over 2019 and 13 percent up over 2022.
According to the Global Rescue Spring 2023 Traveler Safety and Sentiment Survey, people taking cruises prefer smaller ships when it comes to vessel size.
Half of cruising respondents (50 percent) will set sail in small ship cruisers that have a capacity of fewer than 800 passengers. Seventeen percent of cruising respondents prefer small-mid ship boats (800 to 1,499 passengers) followed by a fifth of cruise enthusiasts (20 percent) who favor midsized ships (1,500 to 2,500 passengers) while an equal percentage choose large ships (2,500 to 3,500 passengers). Only 11 percent of respondents who plan to take cruises this year selected mega-ships with a capacity greater than 3,500 passengers.
Sea View Variety; Safety
Smaller ship cruising preference is rising in popularity, with the number of ships set to double by 2030, according to reports. With greater port access, easier maneuverability and more personal space compared to mega-cruise ships, surveys exposed that smaller capacity ships focused on river, expedition and sustainable cruises are capturing greater traveler bookings than in the past.
The Global Rescue survey revealed that the cruise destination preferences among the world’s most experienced travelers include tropical cruises (21 percent), glacier excursions (14 percent) and fjord journeys (12 percent). River, Transocean, fall foliage and Panama Canal voyages rounded out the top seven types of cruises travelers have planned for 2023.
Cruise line operators aren’t relying exclusively on travelers’ eagerness to come back. New ships—previously held up by COVID-19 production delays—offer new perks to lure people back to cruising in record numbers.
Some carriers are shaping ship designs to make cruises feel smaller and less overwhelming. One cruise line is offering onboard neighborhoods, each catering to specific passenger needs such as families with children, singles or couples. Some cruise customers are opting for smaller ships holding 100 passengers or fewer, or they’re seeking distant excursions to places like Australia or Europe.
Onboard entertainment with acts from Broadway and London’s West End is available. Still, other ships offer roller coasters with tracks that extend over the sea giving riders a unique sensation.
Cruise food is getting fancier with famous name chefs, like Emeril Lagasse, providing high-end food while other ships boast onboard breweries.
It’s no surprise that higher prices are coming with record-high bookings and the new bells and whistles onboard ships. With cruise bookings rebounding quickly and surpassing pre-pandemic levels, cruise ship companies can raise prices, and in many cases they already are.
Jason Liberty, CEO of the Royal Caribbean Group, said customer demand is so strong that the company has raised prices across different products and is “not really seeing a pullback from the consumer.”
Travelers confirmed they are shrugging off the impacts of inflation and predictions of a possible recession. According to the Global Rescue survey, nearly half of the travelers surveyed (45 percent) are planning to absorb the higher travel costs without skimping.
As travelers return to cruising, their concerns are changing, too. Traveler fears of COVID have plummeted, according to the Global Rescue survey. The greatest anxiety among the world’s most experienced travelers is having an injury or illness unrelated to COVID.
Suffering an illness or injury, especially during travel at sea, should be an important concern for cruising travelers. When you’re aboard a cruise ship, access to medical help for an illness or injury is limited. Health safety resources on board a cruise ship are similar to a health center – but it’s not a hospital.
Serious medical emergencies aboard cruise ships, however, that are beyond the capabilities of the onboard medical team require transportation of the individual to a higher-quality medical facility. The two ways this occurs are by making port for ground ambulance transportation or calling a helicopter for an airborne rescue.
Both can be challenging.
Emergency medical helicopters typically operate within a 175-mile radius of their base, making rescues beyond that unfeasible. They’re also expensive. Helicopter medical evacuations can cost six figures unless you have medevac travel protection. Making port to transfer a patient by ambulance can take time since harbors capable of accepting a big ship are limited and the top speed for most cruise ships is about 34 mph (30 knots).
Given the rising prices of a cruise vacation, travelers should obtain emergency traveler protection services so they set sail with the peace of mind they need to relax and enjoy the cruise.
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