In the short term, we know that the future of cruising is going to be dominated by responses to Covid-19 - hygiene protocols, social distancing, ventilation systems - but what about the longer view? What might the next 50 years of cruising look like...?
The pandemic is already expediting the introduction of new technologies, such as Royal Caribbean's Muster 2.0, which promises to replace the traditional muster drill with an app that delivers safety information to your mobile device or in-room TV. Smartphones will become ever more integrated into the onboard experience, taking charge of everything from the lighting in your room to your dinner reservations. You will even be able to use your phone as a digital keycard to open your room, and you'll be able to upload a selfie before you embark - no more queueing for your mugshot!
As we peer further into the future we might see increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence deployed on board, used to optimise guest flow around the ship and enhance the level of personalised service. Perhaps your room will come with a 'smart' minibar linked to the ship's WiFi, which can alert your butler when your ice bucket needs refilling. Conversely, we may see some cruise lines defining themselves by offering more traditional hospitality - not everyone wants their drinks served by a robot bartender! (Yes, this already exists on Royal Caribbean...)
With advances in medical science and new technologies such as bionic implants, we are going to see more people cruising well into their 100s. At the same time, changing fashions are likely to be reflected on board. The cruisers of 2070 will be the millennials and Generation Z-ers of today, so we might see more informal dress codes, enhanced wellness facilities and more vegan restaurant options; trends that are already being embraced by lines such as Seabourn and Oceania.
The next 50 years will also bring challenges. According to the UN, the world's population is likely to hit 9 billion by the middle of the century, with the bulk of the increase coming from Africa. We will also see the continued growth of a newly affluent middle class in China and India, and more cruise lines catering to these emerging markets. The question of overtourism, and how we manage visitor numbers in popular destinations, is only likely to intensify. With travellers increasingly looking for off-the-beaten-track experiences, the popularity of expedition cruising will grow, and protecting fragile environments such as Antarctica and the Galapagos will become ever more important.
We are already seeing cruise lines investing in sustainability, with Hurtigruten's new hybrid-powered expedition ships, Ponant's forthcoming hybrid-powered icebreaker and Aurora Expeditions' eye-catching Xbow technology. There are plans afoot for ships powered by solar energy, such as Peace Boat's experimental 'Ecoship', and there is a renewed interest in sail power, both in the cruising world with new line Tradewind Voyages, and in cargo shipping with companies such as Fairtransport.
Changes in the way we travel won't be limited to the oceans. Several airlines have experimented with flights powered by biofuels, while other companies are betting on a new breed of low-emission, zeppelin-style airships. More exotic predictions include travel by Hyperloop (a pod that could theoretically travel at hypersonic speeds through a vacuum), solar-powered planes and even commercial space travel. Whether ventures such as these will ever get off the ground is debatable, but who knows - perhaps one day you will be able to combine your Caribbean cruise with a trip into low earth orbit?
Bringing us back down to earth, we will continue to see new cruise lines launch, established brands disappear, and the occasional resurrection of an old favourite, such as the recent announcement that Swan Hellenic is to be reborn as an expedition cruise line. While it's true that 2020 has been a year like no other, we're sure that there are plenty more surprises still to come. As our innovative and adaptable industry has shown consistently over the last 50 years, you write off cruise travel at your peril.