Expected Impact on Expedition Cruising after COVID-19
by Hans Lagerweij, President of Albatros Travel
Over a year ago I wrote the blog “Expedition Cruising: Goldmine or Bubble?” , talking about the incredible growth in this cruise segment. The COVID-19 crisis has abruptly halted this growth. We cannot talk about a bubble that has burst, because the underlying interest in the experiences is still strong. But certainly, this is the first major hit to the industry since 2008-2009, when Expedition Cruising was still incredibly niche. What changes can we expect due to the crisis going forward?
Initial demand will logically be significantly lower. There will be the issue of fear, but also economic consequences, especially affecting one of the major customer segments – baby boomers. Travelers are likely to stay closer to home for a while, and we already see that interest in road trips, camping and local holiday homes is increasing. However, in general, studies and past experiences have shown that experienced cruisers are resilient and very loyal to their favorite holiday type. “Cruisers trust measures taken are appropriate, not only through sanitizing every surface, providing hand wash stations outside every dining outlet and more, but also that cruise lines will only take them to safe destinations. This trust is unlikely to change even with COVID-19. Overwhelmingly, my study found that cruisers view a cruise as a “safe” holiday and place significant trust in the cruise companies and officers and crew to look after them” . In this light it is not surprising that travel agent consortia Cruise Planners reported that their bookings for 2021 are actually up. For the long term, expedition cruising could recover more quickly than “big ship” cruising. This is because of its smaller scale and remoteness from locations that were seriously affected before by “overtourism” and therefore perceived as higher risk; “Being enclosed with thousands of people in a cruise ship will cause many to pause with the torrent of horror stories coming out. Small groups and more remote travel will be much more attractive”.
Some of the changes expected in cruising in general are; no more self-service buffets, restrictions on who can cruise, new health screenings, enhanced cleaning on board and less crowed ships . Expedition Cruise ships do not have the dependence on extensive self-service buffets that big ships do, but certainly the way breakfasts are organized and possibly some lunches will need to adapt. Restrictions on who is allowed to cruise will be harder to implement in this segment, as the active travelers demonstrate frequently that age is just a number. But stricter health screenings, including at the time of booking, is something that will stay. Clients with chronic illnesses or that simply are not fit for cruising will need to be selected out before arriving to the ships. Before embarkation, another medical screening including temperature check can be expected. Obviously, this will not only be happening with guests, but also with crew.
During the voyage, regular checks by the medical staff of all passengers can be expected. Enhanced cleaning and sanitation will take place, on an every-day basis and more intensively in between trips. Guests will be provided easy and everywhere access to sanitizers, and possibly face masks. With the small scale of expedition vessels, selling to only 50% of capacity is not a viable economical option, but we can expect certain cabins to remain empty, set-aside for purposes of isolating guests who demonstrate any worrying symptoms. Additionally, mealtimes, lectures, entertainment, and excursions will be more divided between passengers, avoiding any crowds and respecting social distancing, especially inside of the ship.
As previously shared, sustainability is a key element in expedition cruising. And although there are nowadays excellent sustainable cleaning and disinfection methods as Lindblad Expeditions has demonstrated, sustainability could take a backseat in these times when working out new health and sanitation plans. The first objective is to deliver the best sanitation that can be offered to guests. Also, the trend of removing single-use plastics could take a step back, when potentially providing plastic gloves, masks or other disinfected materials in the future.
The Expedition Cruise industry will certainly also be heavily affected by the COVID-19 crisis, but the underlying increased interest in the product experiences will remain. Aided by discounting and promotions in the beginning, I am certain demand will come back. It is therefore no surprise that in the middle of the current crisis, a new expedition cruise entrant was announced last week with Amundsen Expeditions. It will be a tough 12 months to come, but the outlook remains bright.
Please note: This article contains the sole views and opinions of Hans Lagerweij and does not reflect the views or opinions of Guidepoint Global, LLC (“Guidepoint”). Guidepoint is not a registered investment adviser and cannot transact business as an investment adviser or give investment advice. The information provided in this article is not intended to constitute investment advice, nor is it intended as an offer or solicitation of an offer or a recommendation to buy, hold or sell any security. Any use of this article without the express written consent of Guidepoint and Hans Lagerweij is prohibited.