The news and events in the last two weeks seem to be telling us that we could be looking at a return to cruising in the next few months. More and more Caribbean ports announce their opening dates to coincide with the plans from Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Crystal Cruises. Simultaneously, the UK seems to be all set for a significant restart of domestic cruises around the British Isles.
However, while all this news seems optimistic, and we cannot wait to see ships sailing on a large scale again, there is no denying that the last few steps are always the most difficult. As Richard Fain said only a few weeks before:
“Ironically, while we are now entering what should be the most positive phase of the process, it may also be one of the most frustrating phases. These are the most hopeful days we’ve had in a long time. But as we get closer to our goal, we inevitably also get more impatient to reach it. It’s like eating dinner.”
“We need to be careful that we don’t screw it up. As eager as I am to get to dessert, especially if it involves chocolate cake, I know I should eat my entree before I eat the cake.”
There are some significant pitfalls the cruise lines will need to avoid to make a comeback successful. We look at the factors that could spoil the party and how this can be avoided.
It took one ship with a mere 53 passengers on board and 66 crew members to cause the biggest media frenzy since the start of the pandemic last November.
Seadream 1 sailed from Barbados after completing several cruises in Norway successfully when one passenger came down ill and subsequently tested positive for COVID-19. What happened next was a pack of wolves ready to blame the entire pandemic on an ‘irresponsible’ cruise industry.
This is precisely the scenario many cruise executives will have in the back of their minds these days. The chances of an outbreak are now and will likely always be a genuine possibility. This means that the media will be waiting to jump for the opportunity to call out the industry once again.
The fact that the entire cruise industry has invested billions in making ships as safe as possible will mean very little if the cruise lines are not careful. This is why we see many cruise lines taking the opportunity to mandate cruises with vaccinated guests only and why many cruise ports do the same.
So what will the cruise industry need to do to prevent a media circus? The cruise lines will need to be the first to communicate any incidents onboard. If passengers or crew members are the first to spread news or rumors, it will seem like the ships are hiding more than there is.
Second, the ships will need to be strict about the measures onboard. If measures are not closely followed onboard, it will only fuel the fire for the media.
The CDC, or is it Someone Else?
We have a CDC director who seems evasive on who is responsible for the frameworks and no sailing orders, and the cruise industry needs to step up and take action on this.
Dr. Walensky answered a question in a recent senate hearing as to who was responsible for the permission to re-open the cruise industry: “I believe the department of transportation and there are numerous others making these decisions.” While the facts are clear, for the last year, the CDC has made the decisions regarding the no-sail orders.
If the cruise industry wants to resume sailing from the US, it will need to pressure political figures and become more vocal. Yes, the cruise lines are, mostly, registered abroad. But, the amount of taxes and revenue they generate is crucial to Florida’s economy in particular.
In a show of how uninformed the Director is on the cruise industry, the CDC director sent out a tweet at the start of March to avoid cruise ship travel in Asia.
Cruise travel is not available to US guests in Asia; travel to most Asian nations is impossible without good reason, and the cruises that are sailing have had a perfect record since they sailed three months ago.
The Guests Onboard
And yes, the biggest test for the cruise lines will be the guests. In most countries, lockdowns are still happening daily. Bars and restaurants are closed, and daily life has no resemblance to normality.
However, some places have opened up. And the question is how guests from these areas will feel if the measures onboard are too strict.
Going on a cruise is a vacation for one but a lifestyle for another. If cruises resume without the fun, the guests will think twice before booking again. And that could hurt the cruise lines even more than the entire pandemic.
Is it Just Being Pessimistic?
The reasons we listed above could be construed as being overly pessimistic. And hopefully, they are. As it stands right now, the coming months could be the most essential the cruise industry has gone through in its lifetime.
It is make or break time. With the right measures, implemented sensibly, with proper communication, and ships sailing 100% vaccinated for the start-up period, little can go wrong.
Whether it is in the Caribbean from St. Maarten or Nassau, in the UK or Singapore, or Italy or the Canary Islands, the world will be looking if we have a second Diamond Princess, or the cruise industry will be able to tell everyone that they are back!
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