Updated: Sep 26
By Joseph Alonso
The pandemic destroyed many businesses. But the cruising industry was too big to sink.
With technological improvements, shifting consumer preferences and the unprecedented difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the cruise industry has seen a tremendous transformation in recent years.
As the world around us changes quickly, it is important to understand its impact on the industry and how it will influence its future.
Before the start of the pandemic, the cruising industry was reaching its peak. For example, Royal Caribbean Cruise's stock price reached $135.05 and Norwegian Cruise Line Holding's stock price reached $59.65 at around the same time in early 2020.
"Pre-pandemic, everything was business as usual," Anthony Vidal, sales rep for Celebrity Cruises and CCHS Class of 2011 alum.
For both of these companies, these stock prices reflected a time and projection where cruising was bound to take over the world of travel.
However, the start of the pandemic brought about drastic changes. Both cruise lines' stock prices plummeted to a measly $23.81 and $8.72, respectively, at the start and peak of the pandemic.
Due to the inability of these cruise lines to take passengers, their ships were simply sitting in the ocean waiting to be used. As a result of uprising fears and lockdowns regarding the pandemic, the cruise lines were losing money - a lot of it.
Ceylan Yeginsu and Niraj Chokshi of the New York Times reported that the three largest cruise lines (Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival) all lost a collective $900 million each month during the pandemic. That is billions of lost revenue per year for almost two entire years of inactivity.
Tens of thousands of crew members were either flown back home or made to stay on empty and abandoned ships for months at a time.
"For me personally, the hardest thing during the pandemic was making sales," Vidal said. "The company adjusted commissions to make sure employees were making money even though sales were down. Keeping up with COVID rules and regulations, not just for the United States but other countries our ships visit was challenging as well."
It wasn't until late 2021 that cruise lines began to open their doors to very limited capacity and itineraries. Even then, due to the fact that the United States and the European Union still did not authorize cruising out of their ports during 2021, cruise lines had to adapt and change their ports to countries like the Bahamas in order to begin making money again.
Even with cruises now taking on full capacity, the negative effects of the pandemic continue to rage on the industry.
A prime example of these effects is the cutbacks that cruise lines are making to their sailings. From dining to housekeeping, cruise lines are making small, but important, cuts on their amenities.
Most recently, Royal Caribbean announced that they will no longer be cleaning rooms twice a day, but instead, only clean them once a day. This change follows similar moves by other cruise lines and is meant to lower the amount of labor that the line must pay for. This means more profits for the company at the end of each cruise.
"I didn't specifically notice anything different from pre-covid to post-covid," CCHS senior Brian Perez said. "The biggest change was probably the requirements to reserve spots at shows and special restaurants."
Perez describes his family as cruising fanatics who have been on about 15 cruises - voyaging on Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norweigan cruises over the years.
Although cruisers have enjoyed their cabins being cared for twice a day for decades, it is a necessary change for the industry.
In a statement to TPG, Royal Caribbean explained:
“Royal Caribbean International is implementing a once-a-day cleaning service for staterooms across the fleet. Vacationers will still regularly see the familiar faces of their stateroom attendants, who will continue to do thorough cleaning, provide new towels, refresh amenities, and be available to guests for questions and stateroom requests throughout the cruise.”
For cruise lines, these cutbacks are essential for them to start turning in more profits on each voyage. With debt at its highest and revenue at its lowest, cruise lines are taking the best measures at improving these statistics without impacting the experience of cruisegoers.
While cruising still faces some troubles, the industry is quickly regaining its footing in vacationing as a premier medium of travel.
"I would describe my cruising experience as an enjoyable experience. I was allowed to enjoy myself and make memories with my loved ones," CCHS senior Nolan Vergel said.
According to MacroTrends, "Royal Caribbean Cruises annual revenue for 2022 was $8.841B, a 477.01% increase from 2021," and "Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings annual revenue for 2022 was $4.844B, a 647.51% increase from 2021."
These drastic increases in revenue, while not higher than in pre-pandemic times, show that cruising is on the path to growing into the premier vacationing medium as projected in 2019.
"It's been nonstop since we got back to being fully operational, which I would say was early 2022. Most of our itineraries are sold out and people are now looking to book 2024 cruises," Vidal said.
With COVID restrictions being lifted across the world, cruising has extreme potential to shine in the future. Cruise lines are now being the most innovative that they have ever been, offering new services, amenities and even ships.
"Everything's back to normal," Vidal added.
Norwegian's recent release of its ships the Norwegian Prima and, coming in June 2023, the Norwegian Viva are making the line one of the more luxurious options for passengers.
At the same time, Royal Caribbean is planning to release its most ambitious ship in 2024, the Icon of the Seas. Set to be the new largest ship in the world and host amenities and activities never seen before on a cruise ship, the Icon of the Seas is set to be groundbreaking for cruising.
All of the new investments and innovations going into cruising show one thing: everything is returning to the way it was. Cruises are sold out at max capacity, and new ships are being released to accommodate all the passengers who set sail every single day. This means that the industry is back on track.
From the pandemic bringing imminent failure to the industry to the post-pandemic bringing the cruising industry as one of the premier forms of travel, cruising is making a comeback. It is only a matter of time before cruising takes over the entire world, and with the strength of the industry and its future, that dream might just become a reality.