FEATURE | The cruise ship interiors industry: Where are we now and where are we going?

Celebrity Flora - Celebrity Cruises

Countries across the globe may be anticipating economic dips, but the cruise industry is one area that’s still going strong despite financial uncertainty sweeping the globe.

We know that cruise is the fastest growing segment of the leisure travel market, with more than 26 million passengers taking a cruise in 2018*, but what impact is the increasing number of passengers having on the cruise market as a whole? And more specifically, how are cruise lines, shipyards, and designers handling the increase in demand?

The cruise industry is booming, but does it have the resources to handle it?

Speaking at Cruise Ship Interiors Expo 2019 in Miami, consultant at Royal Caribbean Cruises Stephen T. Fryers told an attentive audience, “the industry is buoyant”. But what did he mean? Although the cruise industry’s supposed buoyancy may be causing nothing but glee for suppliers and designers whose respective order books are filled to the brim with upcoming projects, shipyards could find themselves struggling to keep up with the demand.

Passengers’ ever-evolving needs and wants have meant cruise lines are continually striving to provide exceptional design and guest experiences, which in turn has led to an increase in not only newbuild projects, but also revitalisation and refurbishments as cruise lines look to harmonise existing ships across their fleets.

According to MSC Cruises’ vice president of newbuilding Trevor Young, the four major shipyards have almost doubled their capacity within the past five to 10 years in order to keep up with the growing demand.

Though cruise lines may be excited by the booming industry, there’s no doubt the demand may lead to issues in the future. A booming order book could mean smiles all around for the time being, but resources in the industry are limited. Again, speaking at Cruise Ship Interiors Expo, vice president of vessel refurbishment at Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Colin Gant commented, “[Newbuilds and refurbishments are] leaning on the same resources. It’s an interesting dynamic.”

The resources Gant is referring to not only involve the shipyards and their limited capacity, but also the exhaustive pool of talent that shipyards must pull from. A key challenge that lies ahead for the cruise industry will be to entice more people to undertake careers in the shipbuilding industry, or ships of the future may not be built at all.

The increased demand has already seen shipyards extend their drydocking periods, with ships undergoing drydocks in June, which until recently was unprecedented. Striving to keep up with cruise lines’ demand has meant shipyards have no choice but to extend their window of time in order to take on more orders.

New players, new materials

Luckily, the number of vendors entering the cruise market is on the up too, with yet more suppliers providing IMO-certified materials for cruise lines to contract. In the past, cruise lines and designers had the choice of just a handful of materials, given the stringent industry standards that suppliers must abide by, but now the market is filled with brands hoping to supply lightweight and industry-certified products to the world’s leading cruise lines.

If we look at the options that have become available in the past few years alone, with the likes of companies like Bolidt providing sustainable and lightweight alternatives to existing materials such as authentic teak wood with its Bolideck Future Teak composite, carpet suppliers Dansk Wilton introducing reused carpet materials, and Shores Global recycling wasted ocean plastic into a new furniture item in the form of the Ocean Chair.

Additionally, brands who have traditionally only operated in the landside hospitality market are now making their way into cruise, such as Dyson, which is set to attend more industry events with the hopes of integrating its hand dryers onboard more seagoing vessels in the future.

Not only are existing cruise lines and their vessels looking to undergo more refits and newbuilds, we’ve also seen an increasing number of new names entering the market, with the likes of Virgin Voyages and the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection hoping to shake things up and attract different demographics than the existing 50+ age bracket.

The increase of new players may have breathed some new life into the industry (it’s been said time and again that the cruise industry is a bubble in which everyone knows each other), but it’s also contributing to shipyards’ capacities. Now, the cruise line order book is packed as far ahead as 2027, which is why we may be seeing an increase in refits, since they take less time (and as importantly, less money) to complete.

Some cruise lines have taken matters into their own hands, with Genting buying its own shipyard in which to create new ships and bypassing the emerging shipbuilding delay in the process. Although that’s certainly a costly solution to what could be just a short-term issue, and one that few cruise lines are likely to follow.

A brand approach

Industry veterans might be tired of the comparison, but it’s hard not to relate land-based hospitality with the cruise market. The relationship between the two may be veering more towards the side of co-dependency, but it seems cruise is still taking notes from its land-based counterpart.

More and more the cruise market reflects trends we’ve seen in hotels, especially when it comes to branding and providing more of a lifestyle approach. What we’ve seen with new players, such as Virgin Voyages, is a willingness to create a holistic brand experience: going on a Virgin cruise isn’t just a holiday, it’s a lifestyle choice.

Given the overly saturated market, it makes sense that cruise lines would want to provide clear distinction between each brand. Again, however, this means revitalising old ships with contemporary designs and even introducing new vessels to reflect the brand’s ethos and image, once more putting pressure on shipyards to fulfil orders.

As ships continue to become a destination in themselves, rather than a mere mode of transport, the excitement and innovation factor must be upped. In such a fast-paced industry, it’s hard to tell what the future might hold. What we do know, however, is that the cruise market shows no signs of slowing down.

As it continues to provide families with good value holidaying options, it’s the closest thing to recession-proof the leisure travel market seems to have. With the newbuild order book cemented for the next 10 years, it looks like cruise is safe for the foreseeable future, though what’s to be done about the industry’s limited resources, including space and talent, is another question.

*Data by Cruise Line International Association

See all the other content from this month’s Passenger Vessel Week right here, including reviews, features, opinions and news.

Stephanie Newton

Stephanie Newton is a Content Specialist at Elite Exhibitions