Total cruise passenger traffic during the first quarter of 2021 amounted to 7,966 passengers, a decrease of 80.2% over the corresponding period in 2020, the National Statistics Office said.
During the first quarter of 2021, there were 9 cruise liner calls in Malta, the same number as in the corresponding quarter of the previous year. You might be wondering who would want to go on a cruise to an island in a semi lockdown during the winter months. Yet, transit passengers accounted for the absolute majority of total traffic, reaching 7,963 passengers. On average, every vessel that berthed in Malta carried 885 passengers, 3,579 less than the previous year. EU nationals comprised the largest share of total cruise passengers during the period under review, at 94.7%. According to NSO, the major visiting market was Italy, with 5,854 passengers, accounting for 73.5% of the total.
The cruise industry has weathered many storms, including fairly regular brushes with diseases. Outbreaks of norovirus, H1N1 and measles have all happened in the not-too-distant past. Despite this, a cruise has traditionally been regarded as a safe holiday, the kind where you can switch off and don’t have to worry about a thing.
COVID-19 has changed this. Cruise ships were a hotbed of transmission during the early stages of the pandemic, particularly the infamous Diamond Princess, which was quarantined for six weeks in Japan in spring 2020. It had over 700 confirmed cases, and for a period, was the world’s leading COVID-19 hotspot after China.
The pandemic has been catastrophic for the industry so far, with financial losses of €41 billion, 1.17 million job losses, 18 cruise ships sold or scrapped and at least three cruise lines stopping trading. Before the pandemic, a new cruise ship was built every 47 days, and off the back of the industry’s robust growth over the past two decades another 19 ships are due to enter operation in 2021, despite demand very likely to have fallen.
To recover, experts agree, the industry will need to tackle people’s perceptions of risk, which research shows have heightened. Risk perception has a significant influence on holiday decision-making, and it will be even more critical post-Covid. In the wake of the pandemic, potential cruisers will need to think about health protocols, outbreak prevention plans, onboard sanitation procedures, social distancing measures and health screenings. Also, they’ll need to consider the consequences of potential outbreaks during the cruise. These could result in being quarantined in their cabin, requiring access to healthcare, or even the cruise being aborted. Is the safety message clear enough to potential tourists? Is this the new cruise normal? What are we doing locally to mitigate risks? Cash incentives are being offered for tourists in hotels, but what about cruise passengers? There’s a lot to be answered for one of our most significant incoming sectors of tourism.