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How the cruise sector continues to lead the way

While the maritime industry slowly begins its long-awaited recovery, one sector in particular is thriving. With record numbers of people embarking on cruise vacations, we take a look at some of the reasons behind the enduring popularity of cruises.

In the year 1900, the world’s first purpose-built cruise ship, the Prinzessin Victoria Luise, was launched. Over one century later, cruise vacations are more popular than ever before, with some 27.2 million passengers expected to set sail in 2018. And according to many forecasts, this figure is only set to grow, with the Chinese market leading the way. So, how is the cruise sector performing so well amid an industry downturn? And what is attracting so many people to cruise?

Order intake on the rise

To cope with the influx of demand, major shipowners in the cruise sector, such as Carnival and AIDA, have been placing orders for new ships. This means that from 2018 to 2020, an additional 37 cruise ships will be completed, increasing global passenger capacity by almost 100,000. In 2018 alone, 13 new ships will make their debut. These newly built vessels will be a boon for the industry, adding around $11.7 billion in annual revenue to the ocean cruise sector by 2020.

The cruise industry is developing in China quicker than anywhere else. Two million Chinese tourists per year take vacations on cruises already. This is expected to rise to ten million by 2026.

Christopher Schnäckel, Technical Director for Fin Stabilizers and Steering Gear, SKF Marine

Indeed, the cruise industry is beneficial to the economy as a whole. According to figures from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the sector employed over one million people worldwide in 2016, generating an impressive total economic output of $126 billion.

Bigger, better, and more exotic

One prevailing trend in the cruise industry is the tendency toward building larger ships. With gross tonnage volumes in excess of 220,000 GT and capacities of over 5,000 passengers, modern Oasis-class vessels are rivalled in size only by supertankers. These giant cruise ships are truly a sight to behold—and they offer many on-board attractions for passengers, from water parks to ice rinks and even a bar with robot bartenders.

Furthermore, the need for vessel refurbishment is increasing too. Many cruise companies have specific guidelines relating to maintenance and service life for ships. The market for cruise ship overhauls and refits already generates three billion dollars annually. Alongside the rise in popularity of cruise vacations, safety and regulations also play a role in the growing refurbishment market. Where once refits may have been more for cosmetic reasons, companies now must ensure that they meet strict international standards.

In addition to the expansion of fleets and increase of passengers, there is also a focus on refurbishment. Many large companies have policies that stipulate how long a ship can be in operation for and how often it needs refurbishing.
Christopher Schnäckel, Technical Director for Fin Stabilizers and Steering Gear, SKF Marine

Not only are the ships themselves changing, but also the places to which they venture. The demand for river cruises is on the rise, as the opportunity to experience more locations along the river appeals to a younger generation of travelers. This is particular type cruise is not actually considered a conventional cruise, but is derived from the standard format. Popular river cruise destinations include the Danube, the Amazon, and the Mississippi. Additionally, the market for cruises on expedition ships is booming. These vessels present more adventurous travelers the opportunity to go on luxury cruises to fascinating locations, such as Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands.

Responsible travels

With the sharp increase of people taking to the sea for their vacations, there are bound to be some environmental concerns. In response, many CLIA members are active in programs to reduce their impact on the environment. For example, some cruise lines employ specially trained environmental officers to ensure compliance with regulations and oversee waste minimization efforts. Modern cruise ships also often utilize cutting-edge green technology, such as alternative fuels and sulfur scrubbers, to reduce emissions. This is especially important for cruise ships operating in sensitive areas where special regulations apply.

Overall, the prosperity of the cruise sector can benefit the entire maritime industry. Due to the huge sums of money involved, cruise line operators are often among the first companies in the maritime industry to innovate and adopt new technologies—and with a little luck, such developments could help accelerate the industry’s recovery.

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