Will cruises impact travel in the post-pandemic era?

Larry here: My wife and I have returned to the sea. In late March, we embarked on a two-week cruise from Roma to Barcelona with stops along the Western Mediterranean. This is our first major outing since the pandemic started, using deferred cruise credits from cancelled voyages in 2020 and 2021. While we were delighted to be able to travel again, dining on fresh seafood every evening as we visited some of the most idyllic seaside cities in the world, it made me think about the hotel industry and whether cruising will come to take its customers.

Per the title of the article and my thoughts, this is indeed an important question to ask your team and your brand. It’s not 2019 and there’s a critical difference to consider in the post-pandemic era of travel: the Baby Boomers.

This generation may not dominate the world in terms of sheer population size anymore, but the wealth is still there. Further, they are getting on in their years, which makes boomers much more likely to be concerned about their health or already suffering from an ailment that may dampen their desire for staying in a high-contact city core or all that walking as one tours about a destination.

For Boomers, cruise lines represent a convenient way to touch on several different locations without the worries of managing the logistics and lugging heavy bags along the way. Now add to that mitigating all the different COVID-19 requirements and multi-leg travel certainly isn’t for the whimsical at heart.

Cruises have solved these worries, though. Your baggage need not change locations while the coronavirus requirements for boarding are stricter than most countries and nearly any hotel around the world, giving immediate peace of mind for at-risk age groups and the immunocompromised. Despite the easing of travel restrictions, most cruise ships are mandating proof of triple vaccination as well as testing 24 hours before departure as well as an additional test upon boarding. Even though the cruise ships gathered somewhat of a petri dish stigma during the opening stages of the pandemic, these somewhat draconian measures ensure that they are more than likely safer than most hotels.

So, we can go on for pages about the unique differences between land-based hotels and seafaring boats, as well as what you can do to emphasize your exceptional qualities, but for many it comes down to the convenience factor and the COVID-19 safety guarantee. With this in mind, you may not consider cruise ships to be a competitor, nor are they likely counted in aggregate as part of your territory’s comp set, but travelers are lumping all accommodations together given the lingering effects of the pandemic.

And as we know from other near-past examples like the growth of short-term rentals and the full acceptance of mask culture in the West, this new trend of customers mentally merging hotels and cruises into the same category could easily become a habit. Emphasize what makes your property great and keep building local partnerships so that your property will continue to stand out even as these new competitors emerge.