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

Researchers from the URV and the UPC’s Biomedical Engineering Research Centre (CREB) have analysed more than 34 million tweets and have found a prevailing negative sentiment towards the cruise industry. One of the main conclusions of the study, published in the Tourism Management Perspectives journal, is the need for the cruise industry to reinvent itself and double down on green credentials.

Mar 08, 2022

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

Researchers from the Department of Business Management at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) and from the Biomedical Engineering Research Centre (CREB) of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech (UPC) have investigated the public perception of cruising during these early outbreaks by analysing nearly 34 million tweets on cruising using natural language processing techniques. The main analytical method was sentiment analysis, which automatically determines whether texts are positive, negative or neutral.

The findings showed a dominant negative sentiment in most of the tweets analysed. The research team considers that results are relevant 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 negative image of cruising, even after the threat of COVID-19 goes away”, notes Babajide Muritala, the principal investigator.

Furthermore, the research team has observed that criticisms directed at the cruise industry in the tweets were based on pre-pandemic perceptions and stereotypes about the industry on issues like the frequent outbreaks of infectious diseases such as the norovirus. Other criticisms such as the environmental impact of cruising, sailing under flags of convenience to avoid tax and laws, increasing the 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 an effort to be seen as a profitable, sustainable and environmentally friendly 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.

Recently published in the journal Tourism Management Perspectives, the study has received funding from the European Union programme for research and innovation Horizon 2020 under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and from the URV.

Reference Paper