Expedition Cruise Business: Market Adjustment

Le Commandant Charcot

The global expedition cruise business is adjusting to the last few years of new ships, which has resulted in less capacity this year and a plateau of supply growth, at least for the foreseeable future and based on the current newbuild orderbook as of May 2024, according to the just released Expedition Market Report from Cruise Industry News.

In short: the market is figuring things out. The reduced capacity is due to a number of ships having exited the fleet, including older ones that are simply uncompetitive, that are now retiring or moving elsewhere, and some finding new careers outside the traditional cruise space.

The model for the expedition cruise business is simple: small ships, remote locations inaccessible by other means, and high ticket prices.

2019-2024

The expedition world sidestepped the pandemic at its onset, as the Antarctica season for 2019-20 wrapped up at the same time the world shut down.

What happened next was more challenging with the cruise industry more or less shut down for the next two years. There was no 2020-21 Antarctica season and only a handful of ships operated in summer 2020.

2021 saw more summer deployments and an abbreviated attempt at an Antarctica 2021-22 season that had less ships and ended early due to omicron and impacted more financial pain on operators.

Thus, 2022-23 was the first “real” season back, followed by a normal 2023, and another strong, full season in 2023-24.

What’s Next

New ships will continue to emerge after the current lull of deliveries. Attractive financing, better green technology, higher ticket prices and new features will drive the market.

As the cruise market grows, more guests will “graduate” from big ships to premium brands to luxury cruising to expedition ships. Combined with retiring Americans with cash to spend and the will to travel and there should be plenty of guests to go around. Add in younger guests and millennials seeking bucket-list experiences and the future appears bright.

New ships, new players, social media, market development and the desire to explore remote regions will drive the expansion of the expedition segment. Warm weather destinations will also help diversify deployment and distribute capacity as the market expands further.

Learn more about the expedition cruise business in the new Expedition Market Report from Cruise Industry News.

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