“The good news is there is still a strong desire for cruise vacations. Del Rio noted their Oceania brand has had its highest holiday sales ever, while the 2023 Regent Seven Seas world cruise sold out in a week.”
HOME_Normally, reporting from Seatrade Global would carry a Miami dateline. But in the upside down year of 2020, the premier event for the cruise industry is being held virtually this week. So speakers, vendors, participants and press are attending from all over the world via the Internet.
With the cruise industry mostly in drydock since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March, dealing with the virus and when will cruising will fully restart dominate the discussions taking place, including Tuesday’s keynote — “State of the Global Cruise Industry: Perspectives on Cruising in the COVID-19 Era.”
The assembled panel featured four industry leaders: Pierfrancesco Vago, Executive Chairman, MSC Cruises; Arnold Donald, President and CEO, Carnival Corp.; Frank Del Rio, President and CEO, Norwegian and Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO, Royal Caribbean, with Seatrade’s editor, Anne Kalosh, moderating.
Prior to the start, Kelly Craighead, president and CEO of CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association), reiterated that their membership, representing 95 percent of all ocean-going cruising, has committed to 100 percent COVID testing of all passengers and crew prior to embarkation, one of several health and safety policies cruise lines have adopted.
Early on, Ms. Kalosh tried to pin down just how optimistic each panelist was by asking on a scale of 1-5 (5 being very optimistic) that cruising would resume this year (currently U.S. cruises have been halted through the end of October).
While each executive was cautiously confident cruises would get a U.S. government “green light” to resume sailings based on the extensive health and safety protocol work done over the last six months, only one panelist would assign a number to it: Carnival’s Donald gave it just short of 5, citing the successful resumption of cruising in Europe.
NCL’s Del Rio noted the ramp-up time required to get a ship ready, plus the fact NCL has canceled all sailings through the end of November, make restarting in 2020 challenging. “It’s not a race,” he said, “and we don’t need to be first.”
The good news is there is still a strong desire for cruise vacations. Del Rio noted their Oceania brand has had its highest holiday sales ever, while the 2023 Regent Seven Seas world cruise sold out in a week.
“Optimism is high,” said Fain, “but we want it to be healthy and safe,” adding that no other industry has committed to 100 percent testing, which shows the level of collaboration going on.
MSC restarted its Europe cruises in August, and Vago said one of the challenges is dealing with the various authorities at the local level. On a upnote, Vago said the feedback from cruisers so far has been extremely positive.
What about the size of the ships, asked Ms. Kalosh. Is there a perception the big ships increase the risks?
Not at all, said Fain. On a big ship, he said “you can spread people out and have the ability to control the environment once you’re onboard,” noting the risks are probably lower than back on shore in their home town. Donald agreed, citing the large spaces available on the big ships.
Fain also talked about how technology is coming into play, including facial recognition and new mustering procedures that allow passengers to comply with the drill without leaving their staterooms, which all of us who cruise are thrilled to see in place. Couple that with the 100 percent testing and the layered health protocols, including crew testing, masking and social distancing, and he feels that will alleviate any concerns someone might have about seeing their holiday ruined.
It was noted at the conference that when the pandemic started, one poll showed an 87 percent negative view on cruising. Today, that has swung to 62 percent positive. “People want to get back to their normal lives,” said Del Rio. “Cruising will come back strong.”