Among all the economic activities affected by the pandemic, there is one that began to recover after all the others: cruises. Due to its nature as a floating hotel, which brings together hundreds of people in a small space during long itineraries, this sector remained stranded for more than a year in Mexico.
Before Covid-19, they represented a market of almost nine million tourists, of which 51% had Cozumel as their destination, followed by Mahahual, in Quintana Roo, and Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas, in Baja California and Baja California Sur, respectively. . The health contingency reduced this figure by more than 6.6 million passengers after 14 months with the ports closed to passenger ships, between April 2020 and June 2021. The country was left with 26% of the market it had in 2019, according to data from the Ministry of Tourism. The beginning of the recovery came in June, with the reactivation of Royal Caribbean arrivals to Cozumel and Mahahual.
From then on, other ports, such as Progreso, Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlán, gradually began to receive ships. The great hope is the high season, which runs from December to March. “This is a market that has a very loyal public,” explains Darío Flota, director of the Quintana Roo Tourism Promotion Council. “People like to travel, they do it once or twice a year. I think the segment is going to take a while to recover, but it’s already moving.”
There are even new companies that have chosen Mexico as the destination for their ships, such as the cruise ship Scarlet Lady, from the Virgin Voyages company, which made its first arrival in Cozumel in October; and the Navigator of the Seas, from Royal Caribbean, which arrived in Cabo San Lucas.
The optimism with which the sector closed 2021 has been slightly overshadowed by the arrival of the omicron variant. Royal Caribbean acknowledged in the last week of December that it was facing a drop in bookings and a rise in cancellations as Covid-19 cases spread in the United States. But even so, the cruise operator said the decline was not as severe as the crisis experienced during the wave caused by the delta variant early last year.
The company said that while travel for the second half of 2022 continues to book within historical ranges, booking factors in the first half of 2022 remain below.
The reactivation covers more and more ports, but the capacity of the ships is still limited by the regulations of the countries, so there are fewer cruise passengers for each ship.
Cozumel, for example, received an average of 3,382 passengers per vessel in the period from January to September 2019, while in the same period of 2021, the figure dropped to 1,740 passengers, 49% less, according to data from the Marine Secretary. At the national level, the average number of cruise passengers per vessel decreased 42%.
In the United States, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires that 95% of staff and passengers be vaccinated. Booths must also be left to isolate possible infected people. “The ships are still arriving with a limited capacity, from 50 to 60% in number of passengers,” says Flota.
Added to this are other local limitations. In Cabo San Lucas, for example, cruise passengers have to go down by boat as part of a measure to avoid damaging the environment.
Despite everything, “the reactivation has been very interesting,” says Rodrigo Esponda, director of the Los Cabos Tourism Trust. “There were 48 cruises from September to the end of the year. It is not as large a number as in 2019, when we had more than 400 arrivals, but we must consider the specific element that Covid-19 represents, with a specific protocol with which it must be ensured that all passengers are checked.
The cost resists, but…
The cruise passenger segment is known for being one of the highest spenders on their trips. In Mexico, this type of tourist left an average of 68 dollars per visit in 2018, according to the most recent data from Inegi. This expense has been maintained in the country, with a slight increase to 70 dollars per cruise passenger in September.
This trend will continue as global travel conditions improve with greater openness, as long as ports work to provide security. “We will have to see the certainty that the shipping company and the destination can provide. From this, the cruise passenger could get off less at the destination, which will impact their income”, says Roberto Montalvo, an academic from the Universidad Iberoamericana.