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Cruise fleet activity now edging above pre-COVID levels: Clarksons

2023 port calls have been running ahead of 2019 in North America/Caribbean. Here, six ships alongside at Nassau Cruise Port
Daily cruise port calls edged ahead of pre-COVID-19 levels for the first time in recent weeks, according to Clarksons Research.

The shipping data analysis expert also assessed cruise occupancy recovery and passenger volumes and projected cruise fleet capacity will be 20% higher than pre-COVID by the start of 2025.

98% average occupancy in Q1

Passenger occupany averaged 98% for the major operators in first quarter 2023, up from 80% in 2022, and lines have reported very robust booking volumes. As a result, Clarksons projects the 2023 cruise passenger count as 30m; this compares to Cruise Lines International Association's estimate of 31.5m, and to 2019's 29.7m.

In 2020, more than 90% of the cruise fleet was idle, with port calls activity only recovering to 40% of pre-COVID levels in 2021 and to 87% in 2022, Clarksons said. For the first time, daily port calls have exceeded pre-COVID levels in recent weeks.

So far in 2023, port calls have been running ahead of 2019 in the North America/Caribbean market, but 40% below in Asia with the Chinese market still largely closed though some activity is expected from June.

674,000 berths rising to 729,000 by 2025

According to Clarksons, there are today 488 cruise vessels with a total of 674,000 berths. Since the start of the pandemic, 40 cruise ships have been sold for recycling but fleet capacity has begun to grow again and Clarksons projects it will reach 729,000 berths by the start of 2025, a 20% increase from the pre-COVID 614,000 berths.

Newbuilding investment has focused on the small-ship luxury market with yards in China and Europe increasingly active and the potential for further new cruise operator entrants.

Refurbishments halved

The pre-pandemic orderbook continues to deliver from European yards, but Clarksons noted some of the longer term investment plans for large cruise ships have been scaled back. The pace of refurbishments has halved compared to pre-COVID times.

The decarbonization focus continues, with 65% of the newbuild orderbook equipped to use alternative fuel and more than a quarter of the fleet with significant energy-saving technologies.

$45b bond market raises

Clarksons tallied cruise operator bond market raises at a total $45b since the pandemic started.