Cruise lines were thrust often into international spotlight during 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the vulnerability of the close-quartered vacationers aboard. Now years on, a multi-institutional team of economists has examined public perceptions of cruise lines and the resulting economic effect on the industry.
Newly published research revealed a relationship between public opinion expressed online and economic performance within the cruise industry, as evidenced by correlations between average online media sentiment and stock prices examined over a four-year period.
This study, led by a University of Florida researcher with collaborators at Oklahoma State University and Purdue University, provides valuable insights into the underlying factors driving market fluctuations within the cruise industry, which has seen dramatic variation over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Most people think of cruises purely as a leisure opportunity,” said John Lai, leader of the study and assistant professor of agribusiness in the UF/IFAS food and resource economics department. “However, there is a significant economic multiplier effect associated with cruise lines. Port cities that see a lot of passenger cruise traffic also increase demand for port infrastructure development and maintenance, which in turn spurs economic growth. In addition to this, passengers spend money through a variety of businesses such as hotels, car rentals, restaurants, parks, and other recreational activities surrounding cruise trips.”
To determine any connection between online public perception and a cruise company’s performance, the researchers collected daily data on online media net sentiment – through posts on social media sites such as Twitter – and compared it with corresponding daily closing stock values for three major cruise lines over a four-year period from June 2017 through June 2021.
“Closing prices provide a consistent point of measurement on a daily basis and a good picture of the market price of a company at the end of each stock market trading day,” Lai said.
The results showed that for every one percentage point increase in average sentiment, the daily stock performance would increase by $0.07, $0.23, and $0.08, respectively, for Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCLH), Royal Caribbean (RCL), and Carnival Corporation (CCL).
The four-year data collection period allowed the researchers to pinpoint the impact of COVID-19 on the cruise industry and identify how major pandemic events, such as outbreaks and no-sail orders, were discussed online. In doing so, a clear correlation was highlighted between these timely events in the COVID-19 response that resulted in headlines related to cruise regulations or outbreaks on cruise liners with trends in both online sentiment and stock prices.
“There was a lot of activity during the pandemic throughout the economy, but among those that struck national headlines were the activities of cruise operations. In addition to the U.S, Navy hospital ships, some cruise operators temporarily repurposed cruise ships for humanitarian assistance,” Lai said. “This led to a remarkable surge in online postings, which transitioned from focusing on top terms like ‘the Bahamas,’ ‘Puerto Rico,’ and ’travel’ in 2017-2019 to a persisting focus on ’coronavirus,’ ’quarantine,’ and ’passengers’ in 2020.”
While results varied by cruise line, it was shown that across all three companies, a no-sail order led to negative economic impacts evidenced by a decline in stock market prices.
Overall, these correlations show the significance of a positive social media presence for cruise lines wanting to succeed economically and can provide valuable insights to industry stakeholders on the importance of managing their online presence.
“As the cruise industry sets sail in the post-pandemic economic environment, it will be important to pay attention to their social media presence,” Lai said.
The full article, “Public sentiment towards cruises and resulting stock performance in 2017–2021,” is available now in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management: doi.org/10.1016/j.jhtm.2023.05.011.