Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley discussed the restart of ships in the Caribbean in the upcoming months with the Caribbean Tourism Organization. He also discussed the ongoing talks between the cruise line and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The discussions on whether or not cruises could resume from the U.S. reached a new high point as the CDC made several amendments for those people that have been vaccinated in the United States.
However, new guidelines for the cruise industry remain lacking. Something that has prompted some cruise lines to cancel all U.S. voyages until, in some cases, the fall of 2021.
The Cruise Industry Needs The CDC Says CEO
The Cruise industry needs the CDC more than most realize. With most cruise operations worldwide coming from the U.S., the CDC plays a major role in the industry. Not only is the CDC responsible for most of the health guidelines that have been implemented on board.
The agency is also responsible for the USPH portion that ships have to comply with. To that end, Michael Bayley sees the need to continue and maintain a good relationship. Not just for the current pandemic:
“We have entered into constructive conversations with the CDC in the United States, which is a very important health authority for us because the vast demand of our operations come from the ports in the U S. That constructive dialogue gives us a lot of hope for the future.”
Michael Bayley believes the past few months have been a steep learning curve for all the stakeholders in the cruise industry. From those involved with the ships, as well as the CDC. However, the current situation with vaccines becoming much more widespread gives optimistic hope to everyone.
“I think we just need to try and accelerate all of the goodness that’s coming from the vaccines. And I also appreciate there are a lot of opinions on vaccines, but I think it’s fair to say that they really are transforming the future for us. And hopefully in a very positive way.”
The Science Is Changing The CDC’s Mind
The CDC has been focused, sometimes to the extreme, some would argue, on the science. And this is what seems to be changing the current thinking in the Atlanta, Georgia, based agency.
The agency seems to be changing the rules and regulations they require bit by bit. According to Michael Bayley, the vaccinated community is a basis for the CDC to change regulations:
“We see that cautiously, they are relaxing many of the rules and regulations, because they’re getting science and data that shows that if you’re a vaccinated community, there’s very little transmission that goes on here. There’s a much different environment.”
Does that mean that Royal Caribbean will require vaccinations for all onboard? It seems more than likely right now. The cruise line committed itself to ensure the crew is vaccinated 100%, while they believe the majority of guests will be vaccinated as well, although the cruise line intends to wait for guidance from the CDC on that. Children and young adults will be able to sail with a PCR test:
“In the coming months there’ll be a lot of vaccines that’re made available globally. Crew members will be vaccinated for COVID. We know from the majority of our guests they will be as well. Since January over 80% of all of our bookings for cruisers in 2021 and 2022, all of those bookings are from guests who have been vaccinated. I think in the coming months, we’re going to move to an environment where the destination population is not completely, but largely vaccinated.”
“So, we think we’re moving into that environment. So people can be comfortable that when a cruise ship arrives you can be sure the crew members are vaccinated, there will be testing protocols for crew regardless of being vaccinated and there will be protocols for guests, and that will be guided generally by the CDC, because we operate from that model.”
Moving Ships Elsewhere Is Not Circumventing The CSO
Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines that have started up in the Caribbean, Bahamas, Europe, The UK, and Asia have been accused of circumventing the CDC’s Conditional Sail Order (CSO). According to Michael Bayley, this is not the case. Most people ignore the fact that 40% of its business is usually outside of the United States.
“We’re not trying to circumvent the no order from the CDC. In total we have 25 ships and they operate globally all through the year. We typically have around 14 or 15 of those ships, fully operational in the Caribbean all year round. And then during the winter months we add more ships to the Caribbean, but there’s typically around 10 ships that operate outside of the US and outside of the Caribbean because we’re a global cruise line.”
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A Return To The Caribbean Will Not Be Immediate
The CEO warns that although cruising in the Caribbean is making a small comeback right now, it will be a long time before things are back to the way they were before.
Many Caribbean nations are still in the early stages of vaccinations, and before the vaccination grade reaches higher numbers, the cruise ships will remain somewhat in a bubble. As time progresses more and more normality will be returning, however for the time being, there will be requirements:
“We’ve got to be understanding there’s not going to be a switch that suddenly goes, boom, it’s all back. It’s not going to happen like that. It’s going to take months. As we’re exiting the pandemic, there will be heightened protocols, there will be testing requirements. There will be mass requirements. There will be vaccine requirements. And so post pandemic for me means when we’re finished with it all, hopefully it’s going to go back to a new normal.”
So while Norwegian Cruise Line seems to have pulled the plug on US cruises, for now, Royal Caribbean remains at least somewhat more optimistic. Indeed the vaccine requirements that many cruise lines are implementing right now seems to be the way out for the cruise industry, something the CDC, according to Michael Bayley, is also seeing right now.
While 2021 is already a lost year for most tourism destinations, 2022 could shape up to be the biggest year to date for the travel, cruise, and tourism industry. For now, when it comes to U.S. operations, Royal Caribbean has suspended departures through June 2021.