Jason Liberty sat across from me at Royal Caribbean Group's
headquarters, the day before his first Seatrade Cruise Global conference
as CEO. With less than 24 hours to go before the state of the industry
panel, alongside the heads of Carnival Corp. and MSC Cruises, our
conversation felt like a rehearsal of sorts.
The question everyone wants to be answered, he said, is: "Are we really back?"
After two years of uncertainty, confidence for the future is high among cruise executives.
the panel the next day, Liberty, Carnival chief Arnold Donald and MSC
Cruises executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago explained why they feel
confident. It included customer response to their Covid safety
protocols, recent booking rates and evolving consumer behaviours.
Protocols make cruisers feel 'very secure'
At MSC for example, 90% of its guests reported they "felt very
secure" with the Covid protocols the line put in place, Vago said. If
there was another Covid outbreak, 82% said they would cruise again, he
"The fact that we could actually be seen... as the beginning of the
problem of the pandemic, and we actually proved to everybody that we
were the solution to the pandemic, that, to me was the most important
step," Vago said, referring to reports early in the pandemic about Covid
cases on cruise ships and the protocols, like testing, that followed.
The ability to have guests back mingling, seeing nature and watching
the sunset from the balcony of a ship while feeling safe and secure is
"the biggest achievement" MSC has accomplished, he said. "I think we
really conquered the public opinion on the capability to actually secure
Donald pointed to record-breaking booking days within the company.
That includes Carnival Cruise Line breaking its all-time booking record
in late March and early April, the sign of a delayed wave season, he
He expects the cruise industry capacity will grow by 7% to 10% in
2023 and predicts that cruising will exceed 2019 levels by then.
The fact that we could actually be seen... as the beginning of the problem of the pandemic, and we actually proved to everybody that we were the solution to the pandemic, that, to me was the most important step.
"We should be able to comfortably fill that with all the pent-up
demand from previous cruise-goers," he said. "Like I know others are
too, we're booking new-to-cruise as well."
At Royal Caribbean Group, Liberty said he sees 2022 as a "strong
transitional year" with the back half of 2022 beginning to resemble
pre-Covid levels. He expects cruise business in 2023 to "look and
behave" like it did pre-pandemic, ranging from occupancy to capacity --
with all ships back in operation -- and most ports reopened.
Optimism about who's booking
But it's the demographic trends he's seeing that gives him great
optimism. Since the pandemic, more people are spending their money on
experiences and multigenerational travel is "through the roof," he said.
He expected capacity within the cruise industry will grow by up to 5%
a year, and those trends give him a reason to believe demand will
"There's always sleepless nights. These are very large, dynamic
businesses, but I would say that we are definitely on the other side of
this," Liberty told the crowd.
And across the table, back at Royal Caribbean HQ, Liberty phrased his
optimism a different way: "People now know their vacation is going to
Source: Travel Weekly