From strength to strength

Revisiting cruise industry trends and tech

A year on from our ‘Bright Horizons’ article, we reexamine some of the trends and technologies impacting the cruise sector. How are operators coping with growing demand? Could regulatory policies provide a stumbling block for growth? Or is it plain sailing for the cruise industry?

Since the early 20th century, the cruise sector has ridden a wave of popularity. By offering a variety of differing holiday experiences, cruise holidays are appealing to more people than ever before. We can look forward to continued progression as cruise-liners grow bigger and better. But to what can we attribute this boom? And what does this mean for the maritime industry as a whole?

Titanic growth

Last year, we reported that the number of cruise passengers in 2018 was expected to be as high as 27.2 million. According to statistics gathered by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the actual number of passengers was closer to 28.2 million. What’s more, these figures are set to be topped by 2019’s projected 6.4% increase, amounting to 30 million.

Once a flourishing market enjoying 70% year-upon-year growth between 2013 and 2016, Chinese cruise capacity has dipped dramatically in recent times. Although the Chinese market is currently undergoing a ‘readjustment’ period, industry leaders have promised blue skies ahead. More destinations, improved pricing agreements, and Chinese-targeted cruise ships are all set improve the state of the market.

It seems as though capacity, as opposed to demand, is the biggest threat to growth on a global scale. However, companies such as Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and Hapag-Lloyd will all contribute brand-new vessels this year. In a range of types and sizes, 24 new ships will join the market. A growing trend is also contributing to popularity. Bespoke cruises are seen as a more intimate alternative to the large cruise-liner excursion. Some small cruise ships have a capacity of fewer than 100 people.

Innovation adds value

Cruise operators are implementing new technologies to enhance the passenger experience and to appeal to cruisers of the future. This year, we have seen further investment in faster on-board internet and ventures into artificial intelligence. Royal Caribbean is using facial recognition technology instead of tickets to permit passengers on board. Virtual and augmented reality experiences are also available on board many vessels, enhancing the dining experience and turning stateroom ceilings into starry skies or transforming rooms into a video game environment.

The inclusion of these state-of-the-art technologies demonstrates a will to encourage younger generations to cruise. Traditionally more popular with the ‘baby-boomer’ generation, cruise companies like Royal Caribbean are now investing heavily to appeal to millennials and succeeding generations.

Cruising toward compliance

A surge in environmental regulations has triggered cruise operators to develop new methods for compliance. The issue surrounding the treatment of ballast water remains one of importance across the entire marine industry. Cruise ships require lower-than-typical levels of ballast water, nevertheless, retrofitting a ballast water management system (BWMS) is a complex procedure that can lead to lengthy downtime. Therefore, it’s imperative that operators take time to consider which BWMS is suitable for their situation.

Shipping companies are seeking alternate fuels in order to comply with carbon and sulfur emission restrictions. A few cruise ships, such as the AIDAnova, are already using liquefied natural gas (LNG) for propulsion, and more are on order. But critics argue that the cruise industry can do more to have a positive effect on the environment and public health. Compliance with these regulations ensures that the cruise industry is contributing to environmental protection. And by adopting an eco-friendly approach, it can hope to secure more cruisers.

Cruise companies are responding to technological and cultural trends and are continuing to add value to the passenger experience. The baby boomer generation is reaching retirement age, and generations x and y are looking for alternative travel experiences. So, the growing demand for cruise travel, and the fleet to support it, could prime the industry for continued success.

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