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2023 global cruise numbers and intent to cruise higher than pre-pandemic (updated)

CLIA Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago and President/CEO Kelly Craighead said the intention to cruise is higher now than pre-pandemic
Cruise tourism is rebounding faster than international tourism, with the global passenger count forecast to reach 106% of 2019 levels in 2023, or 31.5m, according to Cruise Lines International Association.

This is up from the 20.4m in 2022 as cruising climbed back from the shutdown and is above pre-pandemic 2019's 29.7m. It compares to the UN World Tourism Organization forecast that 2023 tourist arrivals will be 80% to 90% of 2019 levels.

Opening Seatrade Cruise Global's State of the Industry keynote today, CLIA Global Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago said the volume could range as high as 33m.

Moreover, the intent to cruise is higher than it was in 2019. Some 85% of those who've taken a seagoing vacation say they plan to cruise again, up from (updated:) 80% pre-pandemic.

39.5m cruisers in 2027?

Over the next four years, CLIA expects the annual global passenger count will climb to 36m in 2024, 37.2m in 2025, 38.5m in 2026 and 39.5m in 2027.

'The future is bright,' CLIA President/CEO Kelly Craighead said in her opening remarks. 'We're seeing a new era of cruising — resilient, innovative, relevant to concerns about the environment and tourism management.'

CLIA member lines' global capacity is set to grow 19%, to more than 746,000 lower berths, between 2022 and 2028.

Toward net zero

Turning to environmental matters, the climate challenge gives the industry an opportunity to position itself as a leader in decarbonization.

'We will achieve net zero by 2050 because we must,' Vago said. That will take what he called the 'three Ps' — passion, purpose and perseverance.

'We need new fuels'

'We can achieve 70% of the reduction in our emissions with technological innovation while the remaining 30% is down to the fuel. We need new fuels, sustainable fuels,' Vago said. 

Cruise ships have the in-built adaptability, so they are ready for future fuels like synthetic LNG and biofuels, he noted.

Currently, 60% of the cruise ships set to debut between 2023 and 2028 will use LNG as their primary fuel. It isn't the solution for net zero operations but is the cleanest fuel currently available at scale and a transition while lines explore potential alternatives, including methanol and hydrogen, as well as fuel cells and batteries.

Also, LNG-fueled vessels and infrastructure can use and deliver bioLNG and renewable synthetic LNG once these become more broadly available.

According to CLIA, 75% of its member lines' ships will be able to use sustainable fuel when it's available at scale. These vessels are designed to be adaptable since it's unclear what those future fuels will be.

Shore power availability scant but rising

Every CLIA-member ship being built today through 2028, except expedition vessels, is scheduled to have shore power capabilities.

Currently, 30% of cruise ships, or 40% of capacity, are plug-in ready. Some 30% are to be retrofitted.

Yet fewer than 2% of the world’s cruise ports have shore power; by 2025, 3% will offer it. As it stands now, 29 cruise ports worldwide have at least one berth equipped for shore power; 20 additional ports are funded or planning to have it by 2025.

'Cruise tourism is managed tourism'

When it comes to destination management, 'We will be positioning cruising as the solution providers,' Craighead said. 'Cruise tourism is managed tourism,' she noted, with lines booking port calls up to three years in advance.

Vago noted CLIA  has worked with destinations like Juneau, Santorini, Corfu, Dubrovnik, Palma de Mallorca and others to manage numbers to achieve mutual objectives.

Stepping up communications 

Now that most pandemic operational challenges are receding, look for CLIA to put more clout behind communications, Craighead told Seatrade Cruise News in an interview ahead of the Seatrade keynote session.

One example is the recent hiring of Holland America Group veteran Sally Andrews as VP strategic communications & public affairs (North America). (Julie Green is her European counterpart.)

There are misperceptions that need to be corrected, and CLIA will step up its communications efforts to address those. 

'We have only begun to tell the positive story of cruise'

'We have only begun to tell the positive story of cruise,' Craighead said. 'We have an opportunity now to use real data and outside industry partners for validation.' For instance, CLIA's reach extends to almost 55,000 travel advisors in North America alone.

'The community is close,' Craighead continued. 'We'll be giving them the tools and resources to share what we're doing as leaders in responsible travel. We have a good story to tell.

'Everything we've experienced makes us stronger. We are reslient ... we are responsible.' 

And Vago urged: 'We must stick together and face the future united as an industry.'