News: Cruise Industry Response to Covid-19
Social Distancing for Cruise Travelers
Every Friday at 5 pm, when neighbors gather on our driveway for socially-distanced, BYOB, social hour, the first topic of conversation has been cruises. They ponder, what scheduled cruises have been cancelled and which may still sail. All want to be back on ship. Of course, this non-scientific, self-selected group are all southern Floridians, who chose to live close to cruise ports. As the group ages, and driving in foreign countries presents more of a challenge, cruises offer continued travel experiences.
Cruises are no longer the domain of those looking for convenience, luxury and logistic free travel to ports of the world. Up until March of 2020, the fastest growing segment of the cruise industry was expedition travel, where ports are avoided. Trending in younger people is a zeal for experience over consumerism. Mature travelers know that travel opens the mind and feeds all the senses. Combined across age groups, 32 million cruise guests booked passage for 2020. Cruise ships are vehicles to world experiences for all.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)
Just think what the cruise industry provides for the economy, in direct and indirect benefit to over one million employees, who derive income from the cruise industry. In third world and emerging economies, cruise ship employment, on ship and on shore, supports families, where other options do not exist.
The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) (remember this group) reports that cruise lines generate over $50Billion in annual payroll. Worldwide, there were 278 ships at sea in 2020, and nineteen coming to debut, before the world went to port in March 2020.
On Friday, March 13, 2020, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in the US, demanded that all cruise ships cease travel, when the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic. As I disembarked my cruise ship in Rio, on March 15, to fly back to Miami, my thoughts were with the wonderful, international crew, many of whom were lifelines for families. Ships’ captains boast of their international crew, with due pride. Cruise ships are floating embassies of good will and international cooperation, without politics, or ideology.
First priority for cruise lines was safe repatriation of guests and crew. Logistics of repatriation for crew was a protracted ordeal, compounded in difficulty by loss of air and ground travel options. Next, the cruise industry enlisted experts for a self-examination of on-board health maintenance systems. The assault on germs replicated cruise industry efforts to reduce carbon emissions and promote health of the sea by responsible waste management. After all, cruise guests are in large part eco-minded travelers.
CLIA was stymied when it requested operation standards from the CDC, as a condition to renewed sailing. Other than demanding sailing cease, the CDC, the government entity charged with setting standards, offered no guidance. Further, the CDC refused discussion.
Executives of cruise line members of the CLIA, are dedicated to guest safety. Cynics may tout profits and tasty menus as priority items. Without guest safety, there are no profits.
In response to the void left by CDC silence, the CLIA formed America’s Cruise Task Force. Co-chairs of the task force are the Prime Minister of Barbados and the CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. The Task Force seeks to devise workable solutions, which can be implemented across the globe. To be avoided, are disparate national requirements.
Thus far, the Task Force has enlisted a Healthy Sail Panel to recommend state of the art methods to attain healthy ships. The objective is to regain guest confidence with effective action items to control the spread of disease. Watch-words of the Panel are: prevent-detect-mitigate. The CLIA is driven to seek solutions from science, not politics.
Update: On October 6, 2020, CEOs of major cruise lines came together at a virtual conference sponsored by Seatrade Maritime News. In the keynote session on October 5, The State of the Global Cruise Industry, CEOs Frank Del Rio of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Arnold Donald of Carnival Corporation, Richard Fain of Royal Caribbean Group, and Pierfrancesco Vega of MSC Cruises, expressed their thoughts, summarized as:
The cruise industry is stepping into the crisis, without the aid of governments, to set standards for the industry, which will create a safe cocoon for guests. Standards adopted by the industry include 100% testing of all crew and guests for Covid-19. Ocean bound cruise ships are looking to success of river cruises this summer in Europe. Protocols tested are showing effective results. Holding no illusions on the arrival of vaccines, the CEOs put their emphasis on prevention, detection and prompt isolation of ill guests.
Despite prompt implementation of healthy ships standards, the cruise line CEOs announced cruises will not resume prior to November 30. CEO of NCL, Frank Del Rio said, resuming sailing, “is not turning on a light switch.” Besides repatriation of crew, there are seventy-four recommendations of the Healthy Sail Panel to implement.
Making ships healthy is only part of the CLIA challenge. The industry seeks to work with port authorities and local excursion operators, to develop regimens of safety through embarkation to debarkation. Local governments, around the world, look to port fees for substantial revenue. Every link in the cruise service chain is seeking to earn guest confidence. Perhaps silence of the CDC is a blessing. Industry professionals, not politicians, seek to earn your trust, based upon openly disclosed, meaningful, effective solutions.
In concluding remarks, the CEOs noted the substantial demand of cruise travelers to resume sailing. Del Rio noted that the 2023 World Cruise for Regent Seven Seas sold out in its first week on offer. Other lines reported strong demand, seen in bookings.
In response to demand, the major cruise lines are moving forward with new ships on order. Delivery time may be extended, due to production delay.
It seems everyone who enjoys cruise travel is anxious to return to sea. When you do, expect your cruise line to add health safety to the growing list of high-level service that has made cruises the fastest growing segment in leisure travel.
Join Cruise through History online, until we meet again on-ship.
Until then, be well, stay well,