Cruise, port leaders at Seatrade conference in South Florida see fortunes rising post COVID-19

David Lyons, South Florida Sun Sentinel on

Published in Business News

Passengers are returning to their favorite ships. And cruise line industry leaders are feeling better about their prospects after the COVID-19 pandemic nearly destroyed their businesses three years ago.

Where do the world’s big cruise lines, a major cog in South Florida’s tourism industry, go from here?

Answers emerged quickly Monday at the annual four-day Seatrade Cruise Global conference at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The business-to-business oriented event is attracting 20,000 industry professionals, 80 cruise brands and more than 4,000 suppliers from 140-plus nations.

A panel of executives from cruise lines and ports painted a somewhat guarded but optimistic picture for tourism worldwide, which in turn is driving record numbers of cruise passengers from North America. The Caribbean and the Bahamas, which are bread-and-butter markets for cruise lines based in South Florida, are seeing strong traffic. they said. Port facilities at Nassau, Bahamas, for example, are handling 30,000 passengers daily.

But a full recovery is likely to come later for places such as Australia, which reopened its economy after the United States. Asia also has been slow to recover, while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is disrupting the Baltic Sea cruise business.

From dead stop to recovery


Three years ago around this time, cruise lines voluntarily suspended sailings worldwide as COVID-19 spread aboard ships, sickening countless passengers. Carnival Corp., Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean Group, which all operate multiple lines, scrambled to raise money in the financial markets to sustain themselves during the siege.

But in early 2022, the Cruise Line International Association, the industry trade group, projected a “full recovery” for the industry from COVID-19 this year, when passenger volume was expected to “surpass 2019 levels by the end of 2023.”

Terry Thornton, senior vice president of Princess Cruises, said North America took the lead as being the main source of major market recovery while others lagged for a variety of reasons.

“All geographic areas are not the same,” Thornton said. “What we found so far, and I’m talking about where guests live, North America led the return by far.”


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