Cruise ships are booming – one provider in particular benefits


Vacationers from Switzerland storm cruise ships – a smaller provider is particularly benefiting from the boom

Although many cruise operators are on the move with reduced capacity and not all countries can be reached, bookings are increasing. This is also due to “vaccinated ships”, according to one provider.

Cruises are in demand again.

Walter Schwager

Just seeing water for a while, that seems to be true relaxation for many Swiss people. Although there are still many travel restrictions, cruise tour operators are looking forward to record bookings from the lands of the Dufourspitze, the Matterhorn and Uetliberg.

Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) is one of the “Big Four”, the largest providers of cruise travel. On July 25th, after a mandatory break of 500 days, one of the company’s ships leaves for the first time with guests. “The first departures from Athens in July and August are already fully booked,” says spokeswoman Julia Thiemann. For the next year and the year after next, trips are booked diligently: “Our booking status is better than it was at this point in the year for future years”.

Have the corona cases been forgotten?

The longing for travel is great among guests from Switzerland. Thielmann says:

“We feel a clear upward trend with every further vaccination. Our Swiss guests are now optimistic that a trip they book for this year will go ahead as planned. “

For this summer and autumn, the Swiss increasingly booked departures from Europe. For 2022 and 2023, NCL registered many bookings for long-haul destinations, be it the South Seas, the Panama Canal, the Caribbean, South America and increasingly destinations in the USA.

Cruises initially represented the risk of the corona virus like no other form of travel. The case of the “Diamond Princess” of the US shipping company Princess Cruises gained notoriety. In February last year, the ship was quarantined for two weeks in the port of Yokohama, Japan because the corona virus had spread on board. Over 700 guests and crew members became infected and 13 people died.

With «vaccinated ships» out of the crisis

This should not be repeated. The ships of the NCL therefore operate as “fully vaccinated ships”, as spokeswoman Thiemann says. Vaccination is mandatory for both the crew and the guests. “That gives us a lot more leeway”. In this way, an on-board experience with all amenities can be offered. In addition, the ships initially only operate with a capacity of 50 to 60 percent.

The MSC shipping company, based in Geneva, has a similar view. A vaccination is not compulsory for guests, but tests before and during the trip are. “The ships will sail with reduced capacity,” says a spokesman. MSC registered a “steady increase in bookings from Swiss guests”. Above all, cruises in the western Mediterranean, where MSC has two ships in operation, went “very well”: “There we are already 75 percent of bookings compared to pre-crisis levels”.

Corona does not seem to have hurt the popularity of the huge ships with thousands of guests. But smaller providers could benefit even more. This is indicated by the development at the Norwegian shipping company Hurtigruten, which operates the mail ship route along the Norwegian coast. Although quarantine requirements still apply to guests from Switzerland and the rest of Europe in Norway, bookings are going through the roof.

As a smaller shipping company, Hurtigruten believes it has an advantage for the time after the crisis.

As a smaller shipping company, Hurtigruten believes it has an advantage for the time after the crisis.


The total booking status is 45 percent above the level before the pandemic, says Estelle Grassler, Sales Manager for Switzerland. That is “record breaking”. “Demand from Switzerland is also above the level before the pandemic.” The situation has continued to improve over the past 30 days after positive news about the possible lifting of travel restrictions on vaccinated travelers this summer. “Accordingly, we expect a huge leap in bookings for 2022.”

Hurtigruten expects that the travel restrictions for guests from Switzerland will be lifted in the summer. Nevertheless, the capacity on board will probably be reduced for longer, and the number of restaurant seats has also been limited.

The ship, the climate sinner

If cruise operators reduce their capacities, it may be more comfortable and safer for the guests. The carbon footprint of an individual guest, however, deteriorates. This is shown by a calculation by “Spiegel”: On a cruise with 2,000 to 3,000 passengers, a guest on a seven-day tour costs around 1.5 tons of CO2Emissions responsible. If the same ship only holds 500 to 1000 guests, it is already 2.4 tons. Similar amount of CO2 would emit a single on a long haul flight to Barbados and back.

The German Federal Environment Agency sums up the problem:

“Cruise ships are very harmful to the climate”.

This could become a problem for the industry in the long term. Even if the corona crisis cannot harm it, the climate issue remains virulent.

What do new technologies bring?

The cruise giants are reacting similarly: MSC recently announced the start of bookings for the new ship MSC World Europa – the first with a liquefied natural gas (LNG) drive for the fleet. This reduces local air pollutant emissions such as sulfur oxides by up to 99 percent and nitrogen oxides by up to 85 percent, writes MSC. In terms of CO2– However, LNG drives are not a savior: Even MSC only expects savings of 25 percent – and that should be rather optimistic.

Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean have also announced investments in LNG ships. NCL has not yet ordered such a ship. Hurtigruten continues, which is expecting four new ships. In addition to an LNG drive, these have a battery that is supposed to operate the ship emission-free for four hours.

There is no getting around a better climate footprint in the long term, says Estelle Grassler from Hurtigruten. And:

“We think that travel behavior will change much more fundamentally”.

People would choose to travel more consciously and rely on sustainable providers. Hurtigruten with small ships and fewer guests is therefore well positioned.

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