Sexy and Sustainable: The cruise industry looks ahead with optimism and responsibility

Seatrade Cruise Global, the major cruise tradeshow in the world, wrapped up its March 2023 edition on a decidedly up note. Bringing together more than 9,500 cruise industry attendees, eighty cruise lines, 1,800+ cruise line representatives, five hundred exhibitors, and representatives from over 121 countries/ destinations, the show was a success on every level and reflects the booming recovery underway in the cruise sector.

This year’s event, which moved from Miami to the Greater Fort-Lauderdale Broward Convention Center due to a scheduling conflict with Miami’s Formula One Grand Prix race, also debuted a new event that has interesting potential for some travel retail beverage brands, called F&B@Sea. The initial effort has been so well received that the show organizers have announced that it will hold an expanded food & beverage showcase next year.

CLIA President/CEO Kelly Craighead

Cruise tourism surging
Speaking before a full house on Tuesday morning at the industry keynote, Cruise Lines International Association Global Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago and President/CEO Kelly Craighead presented a very optimistic forecast for the future of cruising.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the opening session.

Cruise tourism is rebounding faster than international tourism, with the global passenger count forecast to reach 106% of 2019 levels in 2023, or 31.5 million, according to Cruise Lines International Association. CLIA estimates that cruise volumes could reach as high as 33 million passengers this year and an “incredible” 39 million by 2026, said Vago.

In another positive development, there is more interest in cruising now than there was before the pandemic, he said, with as many as 85% of those who have cruised saying they plan to cruise again. This is up significantly from 80% in 2019.

CLIA Global Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago

ARC = a bright future
In her opening remarks, Kelly Craighead noted that the cruise industry has a great story to tell.
“We offer ‘A accessibility – catering to a range of prices and age groups. We offer ‘R’ responsible, managed tourism, taking care of the land, the sea and the water. And ‘E’, cruising is experiential. More than 60% of cruisers return to a destination for a longer visit,” she confirmed.

The cruise industry will see 14 new ships this year with 62 new ships by 2028, and even as the intention to cruise is growing, Craighead warned that the industry is facing some real environmental and regulatory challenges.

In an effort to demonstrate how beneficial cruising is to local tourism, CLIA has prepared an interactive tool kit now available in Europe, which shows the importance of cruising to local economies, and the industry’s respect for the environment.

“Cruise lines are proactively working with their partners to provide solutions,” she noted.

“Cruising is sexy and sustainable, and offers something for everyone,” she concluded.

Sustainability and the search for net-zero

Faced with growing environmental and climate issues, the cruise industry has set a goal of reaching net zero by 2050. To do so will require “3 Ps” said Vago, “Passion, Purpose and Perseverance.”

“These are the 3Ps that will give the cruise industry the opportunity to position ourselves as a leader in meeting the climate challenge, and achieving net zero,” he noted.

Vago spoke about shore side power –“ports are behind where they need to be” with only 2% currently offering the plug-in option – and that all new builds will use cleaner LNG fuel. But even as 60% of the cruise ships set to debut between 2023 and 2028 will use LNG as their primary fuel, this is not enough to achieve net zero, he warns. Industry innovations will be able to account for as much as 70% in reduced emissions, but that final 30% will come down to developing new cleaner fuels.

According to CLIA, 75% of its member lines’ ships are being designed to adapt to using sustainable fuel when it’s available.

“Cruising is leading every industry in responsible travel but we need to communicate this better,” he warns.

“And we must correct community misconceptions and correct old, outdated data. We must make governments understand the cruise industry.”

“We are emerging stronger that we were before the pandemic, but we must emerge united and face the future as a real industry.”