Cruises are making a comeback, though for now they mostly do it for the looser pockets. As an example, the German A-Rosa and Nicko Cruises, river cruise companies that in early June began offering luxury routes on European rivers, such as the Rhine or the Danube. They are scheduled to join Ponant, a French luxury cruise company, on July 4, pending the approval of the French Government to get the green light and resume their exclusive trips under strict safety and hygiene measures.
- The Government launches a plan to boost tourism endowed with 4,262 million
- Tourism demands a super-reduced VAT and extend ERTEs until December
Meanwhile, giants such as MSC Cruises, Royal Caribbean or Pullmantur, geared towards a general clientele and with boats that can accommodate thousands of guests, are acting somewhat slower at the moment. In the case of MSC, for example, an announcement warns the visitor of its website that until July 31 it is not expected to resume activity, although company sources warn that this does not necessarily mean that they will return on 1 August, as it is not ruled out that the return is delayed a little more; in the Royal Caribbean, although there are already cruises available in July, all depart either from Asia or from North America and the Caribbean, so you have to go to August 22 to find the first cruise departing from Europe, specifically from Venice; and on the Pullmantur website, it is directly warned that, at least, they will not return until next November 15.
As a result, Alfredo Serrano, director of the International Association of Cruise Lines (CLIA, for its acronym in English) predicted a minimum loss for the sector in Spain of almost 1,000 million euros if it did not return in June. It is a strong blow considering that, according to this same entity, the cruises in the country invoice more than 4,000 million euros a year and offer more than 30,000 jobs .
The key to explaining this disparate behavior lies first in the capacity. In recent years, luxury cruises have admitted fewer and fewer passengers so that each client gains space. Now, this trend allows more strict control of compliance with security measures and, thanks to this, return sooner. "For two or three years, we have reduced our maximum capacity from 180 people to 150. Our profitability is not in filling the ships", explains Tomás Fernández, commercial director for Spain and Latin markets of CroisiEurope, exclusive cruise company that will retake the activity on June 21. Although they are still at 10% of their sales capacity, explains Fernández, the outlook is already positive thanks to an early return to activity that, for now, is leaving some competitors out of the game.
However, if there is an element that is proving decisive in the return of the cruises, that is the fear. The images of the cruise ships that, between February and April, had problems returning to land after detecting cases of coronavirus among their employees or among the travelers themselves still remain in force. As a consequence, a survey conducted this spring by the CLIA revealed that, while interest in cruising had grown nine points among those who had already done at least one, these desire had decreased by exactly the same percentage among those who had never been cruise passengers. In the eyes of companies, this change in trend has benefited the high-end cruise.
"Most of our clients are repeaters and have confidence in us," explains Juan Rodero, CEO of StarClass, a luxury cruise company that, starting next week, will resume its journeys along the Rhine, the Danube, the Seine and Rhone, and that in July it will return to the sea with boats, at most, of between 100 and 150 passengers. The purchasing power of its customers, in addition, is also going in favor. While most companies are being forced to reimburse trips they haven't made, at StarClass they have redirected 40% of their customers to reservations for next year. Many expect it to be the norm: "In 2021 we expect normality to return," predicts Serrano.