The year ahead for … cruising


The cruise industry will likely see strong demand in 2024 as people continue to prioritize travel over material goods.

But the sector won’t go without its challenges.

Several cruise companies and travel agencies see their booked position going into the year very high if not better than ever, and at higher prices. That gives cruise lines a head start entering the new year. To build on that positioning, some lines will launch aggressive national advertising campaigns or targeted marketing around their homeports. Between the industry’s advance bookings, marketing and Wave, 2024’s available capacity won’t last long before the focus turns to 2025.

The drive market will continue to grow in importance as more brands strategically position themselves to attract a greater number of guests within driving distance, for instance at Port Canaveral near Orlando and the Port of Galveston in Texas. The strategy is to attract more first-time cruisers. And the role of private islands will continue to grow as cruise lines develop and improve their private beaches and quietly offer cruises only to their private islands.

Growth in the number of cruise ships will slow this year. To be fair, the past few years were a tough act to follow, as ships bottlenecked from Covid-era shipyard delays and supply chain slowdowns were finally finished. But the slower pace of shipbuilding won’t last long as the next wave is now under construction, with many expected to debut in 2025.

No new expedition ships are expected in 2024, but that doesn’t mean this sector won’t continue to evolve. Expedition cruising is expected to grow more mainstream among consumers, as demand grows for travel and passion to check off bucket-list destinations. Some of this growth will come from younger travelers in their 30s and 40s who value experiences over things and work remotely, freeing them up for longer and more far-flung travel.

Headwinds in 2024

Of course, the economy’s effect on consumers is this industry’s greatest unknown, but cruise company executives haven’t expressed much concern. Instead, they have seemed confident that low unemployment rates and their product’s value proposition — especially in comparison to all-inclusive land resorts and theme parks — will keep them in a strong position should the economy weaken or slip into a recession.

Another point of uncertainty is the 2024 election, which has the potential to suck the air out of the room in the third and fourth quarters. At best, the election could temporarily distract travelers from daydreaming about their next getaway. At worst, it could create uncertainty about who will win and what the economic future will look like under that leader, leading to the impulse by cruisers to hold onto their money rather than spend it.

But signs of that uncertainty are most likely to come in the back half of the year, mainly disrupting booking for 2025 sailings.

Destinations and the environment

Several valuable destinations will likely remain off the table, including St. Petersburg, Russia, and Israel. While some cruise lines have yet to cancel calls in Israel in mid and late 2024, the geopolitical conflict could delay a return there.

Next year could see more cities around the globe take action to reduce cruise tourism in their cities, move ports out of city centers or impose higher fees and taxes on cruise lines, often citing cruise ships’ environmental impact.

Meanwhile, cruise lines could begin making alternative fuels a bigger part of their plans in 2024. Several cruise lines have tested biofuel and are working to source larger and more reliable volumes of it to support their operations while awaiting more clean fuel options.

Courtesy of Travel Weekly