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Cruising will be ‘strong’ in Europe in 2023 and Celestyal hints at expansion at Seatrade Cruise Global

'We should be under no illusion travel will be the same after COVID...' said Skjeldam, explaining passenger expectations had changed, as well as the view of local communities towards the cruise industry
All ships will resume service by the end of the year, next year will be ‘strong’ – and Celestyal Cruises could increase the number of vessels in its fleet.

‘We are expecting a full comeback by the end of this year with 100% of all ships in operation and...bookings remain strong,’ said Marie-Caroline Laurent, director general, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Europe. ‘We are very hopeful for this season and the year to come.’

Added Daniel Skjeldam, CEO, Hurtigruten, ‘We are trading for the next 12 months better than we were prior to COVID, on about the same capacity and trading better in 2023 than we did prior to COVID. People really want to travel.’

Hervé Gastinel, president and CEO at Ponant, which expects 100% of its fleet back in operation from next month at 75% occupancy, noted, ‘We should be back to pre COVID pretty soon.’ 

A further revelation came from Celestyal’s CEO Chris Theophilides who announced, ‘Without disclosing too much, we have raised capital and our position for expansion in the not too distant future.

He added that the line’s fresh cultural shore excursions ‘have a lot of legs and a lot of demand, not just for Greece and the Greek islands, but the wider Mediterranean – especially the eastern Mediterranean.’

On the outlook of 2022/23, he explained, ‘We had a much shorter season [in 2021] but we were happy with the guest scores and all our trade partners saw the robustness of the protocols, which set us up for a much better 2022.

‘This coming Saturday we will be in full operation. We're already at about 80% in load factors, but we are realistic in our expectations.

‘We see that 2022 is a year to rebuild and position cruising for a very strong 2023.’

The line will sail around 60 different cruises spanning the Mediterranean, Polynesia, Oceania, the Arctic and the Caribbean. Added Theophilides, ‘We see there's opportunity to provide even more transformational guest experiences.’

The statements came at Seatrade Cruise Global in Miami during the ‘European Cruising Leaders Panel’ moderated by Ioannis Bras, CEO, Five Senses Consulting and Development.

Priorities in 2022

Laurent discussed the priorities for the cruise industry in the year ahead, which are twofold: ‘Our first priority for Europe is addressing the Green Deal: the European Union has a very ambitious objective to be the first carbon neutral region by 2050.

‘The second [priority] is working with destinations. We call it 'sailing together to a better future' [involving] reopening markets in Europe, coming back in the best conditions possible, looking at the right health protocols and making sure all passengers and crew have the confidence to sail with us again.’

The director general said cruising must be ‘seen and, more importantly, recognised as being a leader’ in sustainability. She went on to acknowledge the ‘difficult geopolitical situation in Europe’ arising from conflict between Russia and Ukraine, conceding it ‘could also make a difference.’

2021 trends

Laurent confirmed that in 2021, the European cruise market received 1,700,000 passengers and said the region is still the second highest destination market, globally. ‘We are still the second highest market in terms of volume - and Europe is where we saw the strongest growth.

‘That is thanks to the early reopening of the markets and the extraordinary support we saw from countries in the Mediterranean – mainly in Greece.’

On the profile of cruise passengers she said Germany remains the first cruise market in Europe, composing 33% of its cruise passengers. ‘That is despite negative advice that we have seen from journalists and foreign affairs authorities on cruising,’ she continued, ‘so it shows that the German market remains strong even in difficult times.’

The second highest market in 2021 was the UK and Ireland with 27% and the third highest was Italy with 19% of the share of Europe’s cruise passengers.

Future trends

The next 10 years ‘will be about value generating, tourists leaving money behind in communities, sustainability and choosing a sustainable operator,’ saidSkjeldam. He said there will be ‘a lot more regulation of the industry,’ but told regulators to ‘bring it on,’ claiming ‘that’s what guests will want from us going forward. And that's the only thing that can bring some proper change fast.’

Said the CEO, ‘What's really important for all of us in Europe is that we should be under no illusion travel will be the same after COVID...  Everyone around us has moved on when it comes to ambitions on sustainable travel and the ambitions they have for us as operators. The overcrowding issues that they faced in 2019 in some key locations has not been there. Let's not think that these communities will open their arms to the floodgates of people coming through… '

‘Going forward, we as an industry have taken massive strides in realising that we have to change, which is really, really good. Otherwise, I fear for the whole of the cruise industry, in Europe in particular.’

Transformational travel will be key over the next 10 years, offered Gastinel.

Shore power

‘Shoreside electricity is a key pillar,’ said Laurent, asserting that 66% of CLIA members’ ships will be equipped with shore power connections in the next four years. ‘We are no longer asking the question if the ship will be able to connect - the ship will be capable of connecting. Will the connection be available in the port is really the question. This is where we need your support [and] partnerships with governments, clear guidelines, clear regulations that will make sure the money is there and investments are made.’

Advice to destinations: be selective

‘My advice would be, dare to say no’ urged Skjeldam of destinations. ‘Don't go for big volumes, be demanding towards the operators who come to your region and not too hungry for big volumes to come back. Be selective on operators that come and be demanding: [of] onshore power, not using heavy fuel oil.

‘Make sure we [operators] get some really tough regulations, make sure local communities make clear to us what they want to achieve in local value and demand that from us, as operators, coming into communities.’

2021: lessons learned

On lessons learned from the cruising experience last year, Gastinel said, ‘It was very painful for most of us – and even more for our customers – to understand that the expectation of countries can be different.’ Long queues pre-embarkation, waiting outdoors in heat to be tested for COVID-19 and boarding being declined because of a positive result or different port rules were among the reasons for ‘pushback from customers.’

Theophilides said that ‘last year was more important about proving ‘COVID protocols were robust and proving the safety of cruise,’ and highlighted the successes that can be achieved with collaboration. ‘We were very fortunate that we operate in Greece and the Greek government assisted multiple cruise lines in providing vaccination and being the first [country] to have a very clear playing field on protocols on cruise operations.

‘The result was, we had a higher load factor than we anticipated: 57%.’

Guest satisfaction figures last year, he added, were better than pre-COVID-19 because ‘there were less passengers onboard and the level of service was really high and personalised; the second reason is that the motivation of those who decided to sail was also very high.’