A dominant negative sentiment prevails in public perception towards the cruise industry during the COVID-19 outbreaks 

Researchers from the URV and the UPC have investigated the perception of cruising in the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic by analysing more than 34 million tweets. One of their main conclusions is the need for the cruise industry to reinvent itself and double down on green credentials

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Diamond Princess Cruise ship became the centre of the largest outbreak outside the original epicentre in China. The ship soon assumed second position in the world for the number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus between the 7th and 25th of February 2020, before it was later overtaken by South Korea. This first outbreak of COVID-19 on a cruise ship which resulted in at least 712 confirmed cases and 14 deaths among the passengers and crew of the ship was then followed by subsequent outbreaks on at least 124 cruise ships, or over one-third of the active ships in the global fleet of the cruise industry. These cruise ship outbreaks quickly became a crisis as the repeated news stories about new confirmed cases, hospitalizations, passenger and crew deaths, and stranded ships captured public attention and dominated mainstream news and social media.

Researchers from the Business Management Department at the URV and from the Biomedical Engineering Research Center (CREB) at Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya- BarcelonaTech (UPC,  have investigated the perception of cruising during these outbreaks by analysing the tweets on cruising using Natural Language Processing techniques. The main analytical method was sentiment analysis, which is a method that automatically segments text into positive, negative, and neutral sentiment.

The findings showed a dominant negative sentiment in most of the analysed tweets. The authors consider that results remain important “because the social amplification of risk theory has shown that a negative sentiment can persist for a long time even when the original causes of the negativity disappear. Hence, there is a risk of an enduring image of cruising as an undesirable or risky activity to some people, even after the threat of COVID-19 goes away”, notes Babajide Muritala, one of the researchers of this work.

Furthermore, the research team has observed that criticisms directed at the cruise industry in the tweets were observed to be based on perceptions and stereotypes about the industry before the pandemic on issues like the frequent outbreaks of infectious diseases such as the Norovirus inspiring the moniker of “floating petri dish” for cruise ships. Other criticisms such as the environmental impact of cruising, sailing under flags of convenience to avoid tax and laws, increasing size of cruise ships, etc. were linked to the mass-market cruise business model.

The authors of this work conclude that the cruising industry needs to make a genuine effort to be seen as a sustainable, environmentally friendly and profitable business model. In addition, they also call for the preservation of some of the health protocols introduced during the pandemic to help prevent the outbreaks of other infectious diseases on cruises after the pandemic.

This study, recently published in the journal Tourism Management Perspectives, has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and from URV. The doctoral thesis of Babajide Muritala is in line with this study. He is one of the 45 doctoral researchers contracted through the URV’s Martí i Franquès COFUND Programme.

Reference: Babajide Abubakr Muritala, Ana-Beatriz Hernández-Lara, Maria-Victoria Sánchez-Rebull, Alexandre Perera-Lluna, #CoronavirusCruise: Impact and implications of the COVID-19 outbreaks on the perception of cruise tourism, Tourism Management Perspectives, Volume 41, 2022, 100948. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tmp.2022.100948

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