The eleventh edition of the International Cruise Summit, held on 17 and 18 November in Madrid, had sustainability as the focus of attention for cruise lines and ports, but also the challenges they are facing during the full restart of their activity.
The event took place in person with a full capacity, a sign of the good prospects for the future foreseen by both the cruise lines and the ports. This is not in vain; next year, more than 30 cruise ships will enter into service.
ICS 2021 was inaugurated by Marie-Caroline Laurent, Director General of CLIA Europe, and Francisco Toledo, president of Puertos del Estado, and was attended by leading managers and executives of cruise lines, ports, shipping agents and other companies in the cruise industry.
The cruise industry, which was booming before the pandemic, has been gradually recovering activity since August 2020, but more intensively since summer 2021, and expects to have approximately 80% of the fleet in operation by the end of the year. Most cruise lines have been inclined to accept only vaccinated passengers on board, who must still pass a Covid-19 test before boarding, measures that are supported by 90% of passengers, according to a survey conducted by Cruise Critic earlier this month. Despite these strict measures, the sector still suffers from specific restrictions, such as in Italy, where any traveller arriving by land or air has freedom of movement, but if arriving by cruise ship, they can only visit cities on bubble excursions. This restriction is currently holding back many passengers, who continue to postpone their trips in anticipation of its lifting.
Another challenge facing the cruise industry is the loss of thousands of essential jobs during the pandemic. Jobs such as bus drivers, tour guides, and even the closure of small tour operators and local businesses. In addition, not only did cruise lines face enormous difficulties in sending their crew home during the harshest period of confinement, but they are now finding it difficult to recruit staff because of on-board restrictions imposed by protocols whereby crew are no longer allowed to leave the ship at ports of call and many of the facilities available to them on the ship, such as the crew gym or similar, are not operational.
During ICS 2021, several new cruise lines were introduced and topics such as the recovery of destinations and the future of the sector were discussed, where the most repeated word was "sustainability". The ports have great challenges ahead to create infrastructures that allow the electrical connection of the ships to land when they are in port so that they can switch off their engines. On the other hand, Liquefied Natural Gas is advancing strongly as an alternative fuel to fuel oil, achieving a 100% reduction in sulphur oxide emissions and a 30% reduction in CO2, so the ports will also have to install infrastructures to be able to supply this fuel to ships.
The cruise industry is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050, and in this sense, it will be essential to advance in the use of even cleaner energy sources such as hydrogen and to optimise all consumption on board, both in lighting and air conditioning, kitchens and, of course, propulsion.
Finally, cruise lines are making an additional effort to support travel agencies, investing in marketing to stimulate demand and organising familiarisation trips so that they can learn first-hand about the safety protocols in force. This is why cruise lines are already seeing strong demand for cruises in 2022 and 2023.