Should the Cruise Industry Rethink Megaships?

by Maria Lenhart
Should the Cruise Industry Rethink Megaships?

The Carnival Triumph fiasco provided a textbook case of the logistical problems that megaships are likely to encounter during a crisis. Inevitably, this raises the question – should the cruise industry be rethinking the trend toward bigger and bigger ships?  

What, if anything, do last week’s events, in which an engine room fire caused the Triumph to drive without power for five days, say about the contingency plans that cruise lines should have in place, no matter what size the ship?

For a perspective on these issues and others, Travel Market Report spoke with cruise industry expert Dr. Andrew Coggins, a professor of tourism management at Pace University in New York. A retired U.S. Navy Commander, Coggins is a frequent speaker at cruise industry conferences.

What created the operating problems for the Carnival Triumph – and could it happen on other cruise ships?
Coggins: Ships today are almost entirely dependent upon electricity, so when you lose electricity, you lose everything. Except for emergency generators that can operate things like lights in the corridor, there’s nothing [else] to power refrigeration, air conditioning and the sewage system.

With pollution regulations, the whole sanitary system goes through an onboard treatment plant powered by electricity, as opposed to 30 years ago when everything was dumped over the side. So in the old days, the ship would still have had its toilets working during a power failure.

Is a problem like a power shutdown worse for passengers on a megaship than on a smaller one?
Coggins: When something like this happens, the big issue is managing the people. With a smaller ship, this is easier.

As the size of ships has grown, they’ve added more staterooms and deck levels, but not more public deck space. The idea is that with so many staterooms having verandas, people will not need as much public deck space.

However, this becomes a real problem when people can’t stay in their cabins [because of unsanitary conditions]. Where do you put them all? The cruise lines need to have a contingency plan for how they manage people in a crisis like this.

Will the cruise industry rethink megaships? Should it?
Coggins: It’s unlikely that it will. It’s the megaships that have made cruising affordable for so many people. They provide the economies of scale that keep costs down.

And many people, including the first-time cruisers that the industry is trying to attract, are drawn to all the onboard activities. They think they might be bored on the ship.

Will the Carnival disaster put a damper on overall cruise sales?
Coggins: There will probably be a short-term impact. We’re in the middle of Wave Season so we won’t really know for a couple of weeks. I think Carnival itself will take a short-term dip, but I don’t know that there will be much collateral damage to other lines – including those that are operated by Carnival Corp.

What is your long-term forecast for the cruise industry? Will consumer interest continue to grow?
Coggins: Yes, I see interest continuing to grow, especially in consumer markets like South America and Asia, which has a rising middle class. The global market for cruises is big. This is why CLIA has taken on more of a global focus.

What’s your advice for travel sellers if clients express concerns about cruising?
Coggins: I would tell them that incidents like this are extremely rare. In fact, I can’t think of another one like this. The cruise industry is far from unsafe. People can still go and have a good time.

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