2022 was a monumental transition year where operators placed ships back in operation throughout the first half of the year. After almost three years of uncertainty, the restart was successful, but with mixed results by markets and brands.
What happens next in 2023 with the cruise industry that now has its fleet back in operation? This bulletin explores where the industry is today, compares 2022 metrics with those in 2019, and provides guidance as to what 2023 will look like – its challenges and opportunities.
Capacity – Despite the retirement of many of the older vessels from the fleets, today the industry is larger with more lower berth capacity than in 2019.
Passengers – Given the current trajectory of sailings and capacities, it is all but anticipated that 2023 will see a full year of recovery in terms of passenger numbers (and revenues). In fact, 2023 could even exceed the overall industry passenger numbers of 2019.
Debt – All three major listed cruise companies have more than doubled the amount of total debt. As a result of the debt, operators are executing somewhat different strategies going forward, but among common themes are:
- A focus on operational profitability by looking at every part of the operations to achieve this target.
- A reduction in capital spending by reducing or temporarily halting planned capital spending on non-essential projects.
- Leveraging and partnering by looking for ways to attract capital or partners to achieve certain programs.
While this may negatively impact or delay growth strategies, particularly as it relates to investments in ships (as can be seen with ships on order 2019 v. 2022), technology, and the expansion of land-based developments, these operators have not announced any cancelations to date.
Instead, what is being seen is an evolution in the cruise business streamlining business to maximize profit and reduce cash demand. Investments in infrastructure will need to be carried out more by the destinations or third parties, to fill the gap in infrastructure development while the major cruise lines remain capital constrained.
Below find a comparison of key metrics of 2019 versus 2022 – such as passengers carried, occupancy levels, berths, ships, and more – based on the annual report data published by Carnival Corp (CCL), RCG, and NCLH.
*BA database estimate. Carnival’s year-end report did not include actuals.
- Of these key stats, RCG and CCL show passengers down with a proportional decrease in total revenues in 2019 and 2022. NCLH, however, shows revenues did better and did not decrease to the same level as passenger figures.
- All lines report strong consumer demand and can resume “full” operations in certain markets. (This has been the subject of a past Bulletin). The percentage of operators’ revenues increased significantly in North America and Europe. According to the CFO of RCG, the company’s North America-based itineraries are showing strong booking trends. Meanwhile, the company’s European itineraries are also showing positive signs, with bookings within historical ranges and catching up.
- Total debt has doubled or tripled across all operators.
- Operators have restructured debt and have delayed new ship orders as they focused on restart efforts initially, and at present, on strengthening their balance sheets.
- Operating expenses affect profitability and resilience in the face of mounting debt payments. In 2022 expense per passenger has increased significantly for Carnival and NCLH. The main factors affecting this were:
- Fuel prices were a key driver behind the increase in operating expenses for the big three cruise companies.
- Lower occupancy levels as ships were not sailing at “typical” occupancy levels.
- As a result, the big three are hard at work to manage their costs and increase profitability. Among actions taken by some of the lines include layoffs, revisions of itineraries to reduce fuel costs, shifting ships from weekly itineraries to shorter itineraries, and many others. Each company commented that higher cruise costs are expected to normalize in 2023.