Worldwide, we are still living a long and frustrating period of tourism crisis due to sars-COV2 pandemic. It’s not yet the moment to draw conclusions but it’s already clear that no segment of tourist market is about to face a future more uncertain than cruise ship travels. On a global scale, according to the latest estimates, cruise travel fell in 2020 by 80% compared with the 2019 trend, precipitating the tourist movement and the sales of cruise ship travels to the amounts reported in the last years of the last century.
Cruise ship travels: how they work in Covid time
About cruises in Italy, during 2020 and in these first months of 2021, just very few cruise travel companies have succedeed in sailing and docking in Italian ports. MSC Cruises started to sail again in August 2020 and shortly after also Costa Cruises shoved off, both offering cruises in the Mediterranean and Italian ports of call among which also Messina cruise port.
Cruise ship travels in the world: the effects of pandemic and tourism crisis
The most alarming statistics points that cruise travel, for a large market segment, is still synonym for risk and the effects for cruise ship travels could be more devastating than the shipowners themselves dare to recognise.
A recent study published by the University of Western Australia (Cruising through a pandemic: the impact of COVID-19 on intentions to cruise) found that, in the United Kingdom and in Australia, 67% of respondents, remarkably, is not yet willing to cruise travel because of pandemic emergency and risk of contagion.
Although more than a year has passed, some terrible images of cruise ship travels are still printed in many potential travellers’ minds, such as those of the passengers and crew trapped in their cabins on board of Diamond Princess after an outbreak occured off the Japan coast and then stuck in the port for 3 weeks more. At the same time, just few days after, more terrifying images of cruise ship travels had been broadcast worldwide, concerning the 1500 people infected on Carnival Cruises during the largest cluster of Covid-19 outside of China, back then.
Again, the document published by the University of Western Australia reveals another catastrophic item. It seems that, due to the severe tourism crisis with regard to cruise ship travels, the debt of the three major cruise travel companies continues to grow, presently estimated at around 60 billion dollars with serious implications for the whole industry of cruise ships travels and the consequent loss of 1,17 million jobs.
Moreover, several cruise travel companies, due to the cruise tourism crisis, have been forced to reduce their own fleet depriving themselves of a number of flagships. Currently, 18 cruise ships had been sold or demolished and at least three cruise travel companies had permanently closed down.
The future of cruises in Italy and worldwide: what to expect?
Althought the pessimistic estimates, cruise travel companies stay positive, relied on the regular demand from loyal and repeat customers of cruise ship travels.
At the beginnings of 2021, Carnival Cruises stated that bookings for cruise ship travels to be in 2022 are more than previous ones compared to 2019. Royal Caribbean actually informed that more than 150.000 people would volunteer to cruise travel when cruise ships will be able to sail.
Anti-covid vaccine to travel is supposed to be “the light at the end of the tunnel”, but developments in hygienic and safety conditions are still uncertain and must be taken into account.
Among the devoted to cruise ship travels, in fact, there are divided and differing opinions about the introduction of mandatory vaccine to travel. Thought some future cruise travellers are willing to vaccine to travel as soon as possible, many others threaten to boycott any cruise company that require mandatory vaccine to travel and to get on board their cruise ships.
Carnival Cruises is currently the only one great cruise travel company all over the world to not have announced the mandatory vaccine to travel.
Meanwhile, to go travel now and during 2021, the cruise travel companies will sail between the domestic ports introducing the mandatory vaccine to travel and the “bubble” offboard, a safety measure that, as already experienced, discourages those who wish to cruise travel in complete serenity and freedom.
Italian cruise ports: the impact of cancellations of cruises in the Mediterranen
Tourism crisis in Italy was increased also by the cancellations of cruises in the Mediterranean. In this respect, a detailed survey has been conducted by “Risposte Turismo” (Answers Tourism), a Venetian company specialized in research and study on cruise ship travels, which presented the results on last 26 November during 2020 edition of Italian Cruise Watch.
As expected, estimates have been shocking: the shotdown of cruises in the Mediterranean because of the Covid pandemic, between March and October 2020, deprived the Italian economy of a benefit equal to 925 million euros.
This fatal amount concerns the loss of profit referable just to the induced production of cruise ship travels, that is the missed expenses of cruise travellers offboard and the consequent drop-down damages for the entire tourism industry: from shore excursions to shopping, from foodservice to any kind of activity or intake conferred by the arrivals of cruises in the Mediterranean in Italian ports.
From the report “Risposte Turismo” more devastating estimates emerged about cruises in the Mediterranean, those related to the handling of passenger in Italian ports, which are even worst than those determined globally. The year 2020, in fact, ended with fewer than 800 thousand passengers transited through Italian ports, marking -93,5% in comparison with 2019 statistics, bringing the handling of cruise travel back to 1993.
According to the statistics presented by “Risposte Turismo”, Veneto would be the Italian region to have suffered the most negative impact, losing 206 million euros, followed by Lazio (-204,6 million euros), Liguria (-176,5 million euros), Campania (-120 million euros) and Sicily (-65 million euros).
During the Italian Cruise Watch 2020 it was perceived a sense of prudent optimism for the future of cruises in the Mediterranean and cruise travel in Italy. For instance, it bodes well that the investments in infrastructure shall be increased in the three-year period 2021-2023: these funds are intended for some of the most important Italian ports, among which the virtuous Messina cruise port.
Cruise tourism crisis: one more tax to pay for Messina city
The effects of pandemic on the economic system of Messina, the city of the Strait, are day by day ever more devastating. An unstoppable whirpool is swallowing in the abyss a multitude of business activities located in the historical city center, very close to Messina cruise port, and in the most popular shopping areas.
These estimates are confirmed by the Chamber of Commerce of Messina that records extra 2056 jobs lost in the first quarter of the present year. An amount that means an increasing poverty and a very pervading social discomfort, in a city already economically exhausted.
Without industrial conglomeration or economical activities like agriculture and fishing, Messina with its tertiary sector could barely manage to survive the tourism crisis of the last decade, thanks to the growth of small businesses that, with much efforts, became popular as part of foodservice, trade and services, many of them favoured by the regular presence of cruise ship travels in Messina all over the year.
Unlike other important Italian seaside towns, tourism in Messina depends almost entirely on cruise ship travels. Venice, Genoa, Naples, Livorno (Florence), Civitavecchia (Rome) and even Palermo can count on residential tourism, that is the most important segment of travelling.
The missed arrivals of cruise ships in Messina cruise port, over several months, and the consequent cruise tourism crisis, had merciless results. It’s easy to calculate (by default) the negative impact due to the absence of cruise ship travels in Messina city.
Firstly, it’s necessary to consider the handling of passengers fully loaded, analyzing the oficial estimates published by the Port Authority of Messina. In 2019 the potential passengers arrived in Messina cruise port by cruise ships were 436.141, meanwhile the year 2020 registered a collapse with just 57.252 passengers. These numbers highlight -87% of handling and are reliable just by default because, especially during 2020, cruise ships never travelled fully loaded.
To calculate the economical loss arising from cancellations or “phantom” cruise arrivals in Messina due to the introduction of “bubbles” for offboard services, it’s possible to draw on evidence gathered by “Risposte Turismo” during the Italian Cruise Watch 2020 and on a survey commissioned and published by Confesercenti and conducted by OTIE (Observatory on Tourism in the European Islands) a few years ago.
From this last analysis, in 2009 spending produced by cruise travellers in transit in Sicilian ports was equal to 42.609.400,00 euros, 44% of which attributable to organized excursionists and 56% to indipendent visitors, distributed as follows: Palermo cruise port with 22.771.383,00 euros, then Messina cruise port with 11.353.520,00 euros, immediately after Catania cruise port with 7.132.528 euros, and the minimal remaining 1.351.969,00 euros obtained by the smaller Sicilian ports of Trapani and Porto Empedocle.
It follows that Messina cruise port had a benefit of about 27% of the entire economic flow deriving from cruise ship travels in Sicily, a consolidated and of course improved status over the last decade, both for the handling of passengers and in economic terms.
Therefore, willing to extract the files related to the loss caused by cruise tourism crisis for Messina cruise port, 65 million euros of loss reported by “Risposte Turismo”, as the result of missed annual billing of cruise tourism in Sicily in 2020, in effect, stand for about 17.550.000,00 euros shortfall for the tourist industry of Messina, from Messina shore excursions, to shopping, foodservice and any kind of intake deriving from the cancellation of cruise ship travels in Messina cruise port.
Just this estimate, calculated by default, had and still has a devastating effect on the economic framework of the city of the Strait, severely affecting its capacity.
Messina cruise port: when tourists will get back in town?
Since last 3rd of May, cruises in Italy have finally sailed again, making a stopover also in Messina cruise port with the arrival of the beautiful Smeralda of Costa Cruises. But, as said before, the “bubbles” still in force allow to admire the greatness of cruise ships, just from a distance, anchored in the dock of Messina cruise port as wonderful phantom containers with invisible passengers on board.
Last news say that, for free handling at least in Europe, it will be introduced – almost certainly by June 15, 2021 – the green pass for travellers, a healthy passport that includes the mandatory vaccine to travel, foreseen by most cruise travel companies in their protocols to allow passengers to join cruise ship travels.
We don’t know yet if green pass for cruise travellers allows the removal or the reduction of restrictions during the stopover in Messina cruise port and in the other Italian ports.
Projections for tourist season 2021 are still uncertain and also the estimates about the handling of passengers, published in the annual calendar by the Port Authority of Messina, let predict another year of grave decrease.
There is another discouraging trend that penalizes cruise ship travels at the moment. In a so delicate phase, in fact, a large number of travellers would prefer to wait to book a trip, a tendence confirmed by some analysis conducted by OTA (Online Travel Agency) that record an increase of 38% of bookings made within 7 days before the departure and this very compressed timeframe would not facilitate the choice of cruise travel.
Nevertheless, we from Discover Messina feel optimistic for the future of cruise ship travels and we are certain that many travellers feel the same, too.
The global implementation of the vaccination campaign, the introduction of green pass for travellers, are encouraging signals about the possible reopening of frontiers for the world of travels and they may also accelerate the definitive victory of the battle against Covid-19.
We know also that, however, the travellers’ demands have changed in the last year and that will be very different than before the pandemic, for sure.
Understanding and assimilating these new patterns can represent the trump card to be ready to welcome travellers who will arrive in Messina cruise port from all over the world.
According to the estimates made by the great cruise travel companies, 2022 could be the good year to leave national ports and to sail again outside of territorial limits. Certainly, some precautionary measures will be adopted and confirmed indefinitely. We don’t know yet which ones they are but, in order to see again tourists walking down the streets of Messina, free and happily, it will be necessary to wait the definitive removal of the “bubbles” offboard and of bio-security corridors that prohibit any contact with the residents.
It bodes well also the growing interest of great cruise travel companies for the itineraries of cruises in the Mediterranean, highly favourite and at the top of the wishlist of worldwide cruise travellers.
The charm of our ports, our cities and our villages still delights many travellers’ imagination, ever more attracted by typical Sicilian delicacies and specialities, as well as by the colours and the warmth of our land.
The beauty of our attractions, both natural and anthropic, continues to be the secret weapon to defeat cruise tourism crisis and to restore confidence even in the most cautious travellers.
For all the businesses operating in cruise travel, especially those more exposed to the dependency of the arrivals of ships in Messina cruise port, the mission is to resist, to overcome this long and frustrating period of tourism crisis in order to be ready to face these new challenges.
If the year 2022 could be a time of transition and realigmnent for cruise ship travels, almost certainly in 2023 cruise travel could return operating globally at full capacity, with an handling of passengers in Messina cruise port like the one recorded in 2019.