Cruise makes comeback


Leading industry event Seatrade Cruise Med has returned after a four-year hiatus to an industry that is well on its way to recovery. Leaders of major cruise lines have confirmed that after a somewhat jumpy start, 2022 has jumpstarted the process of making up for the losses of thousands of bookings that went unsold.

“The first month of 2022 was a disaster because so many parts of the world were not able to perform 100 per cent, while the ships were deployed,” Gianni Onorato, CEO, MSC Cruises, said in the opening session on the state of the industry at Seatrade Cruise Med. “But from summer 2022, the scenario has totally changed. We’ve seen that the consumer perception has been very strong in the direction of going back to cruising. This is a very resilient industry because of the value for money we offer is not comparable to any other. This is the most important message.

“There’s been a very good response for Europe in summer and the USA, and this will continue if no other external factors impact this progress. Obviously, there is a lot to do in order to fill the gap over the past month of missing bookings. We see that the pace of the response from the customers globally is very strong: much stronger than in the best record year for the industry, which was 2019. Obviously, there are some still some limitations with some Asian markets still closed.”

“Happy to share that we are at 100 per cent capacity sailing throughout our deployments globally at this time. We’re back!”
– Mohamed Saeed


Mohamed Saeed, Managing Director, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara & Silversea Cruises – Middle East, said: “2022 was a ‘different’ year. It started with the Omicron wave in Q1 with no clear indication of upcoming demand in the cruise market.

“Shortly after that, everyone decided we’re fed up and ready to travel in the summer, which resulted an overload of enquires and cruise booking transactions flooded all brands offered in destinations such as Europe, mainly due to eased restrictions at the time.

“We don’t expect this sudden shift to carry on next year and possibly a historical booking pattern will return due to global announcement of normality again,” he tells us.

According to Saeed, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE were leading this demand outbound for the cruise industry in the region.

“By June 2022, the entire fleet of RCL had returned to service and by August 2022, we had record transactions, which quickly returned our business to 2019 financial metrics and even beyond.

Saeed says, “This would not have ever happened without you ‘our trade partners’. The journey is long but steady and our partnership will drive this industry back to its glory. We thank you all for your patience, empathy, dedication and eagerness to speak cruise again and looking forward to an even positive 2023.

“I’m happy to share that we are at 100 per cent capacity sailing throughout our deployments globally at this time.

“What does that mean? We’re back!”

Meanwhile, expedition cruises are doing well globally and particularly in the region as deep-pocketed and experienced cruisers seek to return for an enriching experience and unique itinerary. Lakshmi Durai, Chief Executive, Discover The World – Middle East, tells us in an interview, “We have had some bookings for expedition cruises from our market, so that is all the more exciting. With the all-suite Seabourn Venture and its six-seater submarines descending into the waters for a clear view of rare aquatic life, we are taking the spirit of expedition not just to land excursions but also under the sea.”

River cruising is something that perhaps hasn’t returned to 2019 levels just yet, Durai tells us. “River cruises are just beautiful – quite a different concept really when compared to oceanliners. River cruising is still waiting to pick up this year, but I am confident it will as we had some demand in 2019. River cruises see you traverse very beautiful European rivers of Rhein and Danube. On the Asia side, Vietnam and Cambodia have some syunning itineraries and also South Africa for instance. The sailing itself is so beautiful because you have very scenic beauty on either side of the shows. You get to do it all inclusive, you get to see many more shore excursions as even in a single day, you will be stopping in so many different places.

“We had received some positive feedback on river cruising in 2019,” says Durai.

Norwegian Cruise Line has also been deep diving into what the consumer wants and then giving it to them. Nick Wilkinson, Regional Vice President, Business Development, MEA, says, “The customer seeks the choice of freedom, flexibility and food. Destinations and itineraries are also equally very important to the customers, particularly over the last couple of years when they haven’t had the flexibility to travel.

“Customers want to make up for lost time. They are seeking out that authentic, meaningful travel experience. This is also so key across the market in the Middle East. While we may have perceived the Middle East market as a late booking market, we note now that the actual customer is starting to plan a bit more in advance. They want to make sure they get the experience they feel they’ve missed out on. They’re looking for pause. They’re seeking rich itineraries.

“What particularly resonates well with the GCC market is Norwegian Prima out of Southampton and Reykjavik, Norwegian Viva on the Mediterranean, Norwegian Epic in the Mediterranean. It really does address itself to the local markets there.

“We’ve got new technology and we want guests to check in all the way through to the safety drills before they actually travel. So, the minute they’re stepping on board, they’re straight into the NCL experience.

“The GCC customer - we know they always want the newest, brightest ship and a ship with a real resort feel,” Wilkinson adds.

Speaking of the newest and brightest, Explora Journeys, the new luxury division of the MSC Group, will start its unique journey on the sea with its very first vessel EXPLORA I, as it offers Mediterranean sailings starting from May 31, 2023.

The luxury lifestyle travel brand has revealed a selection of experiences around the Mediterranean, with a unique blend of well-known destinations such as Ibiza in Spain, discovered through a different lens and lesser-known ports, rarely visited by cruise ships such as Calvi in Corsica, France or Kastellorizo in Greece.

Experiences are tailored to small, intimate groups, from 2 to 25 guests, with an emphasis on exclusive, off-the-beaten-track encounters focused on a slower pace of travel to allow guests to fully immerse themselves in each destination, whilst not leaving their mark on the places they explore, the brochure says.

Chris Austin is Chief Sales Officer, Explora Journeys, tells us he is keen to work with the region. In this position, he is responsible for the line’s overall global go to market strategy across all sales channels and leads the Global Sales Organisation and all B2B partner trade marketing initiatives.

“We are very committed to our travel advisor community. Our policies support our collaborative approach, they are bold, industry first and put the advisor and agency owner at the forefront. Each travel advisor is important to us, and we certainly want to also offer our travel advisor partners in the Middle East region, which is of increasing importance to us, full support now and a long time into the future.

“We are therefore also planning to add a sales team member based in Dubai in 2023,” Austin promises.