A Light at the End of a Very Long, Dark Tunnel
Friday, November 13th, will be a bleak milestone. On that day we mark 8 months since the nightmare of COVID ground global cruise operations to a halt. It was Friday, March 13th when news of the global suspension circulated through a disbelieving industry with the speed of light. So where are we 8 months later? Still not back to normal – far from it – but inching closer, ever so slowly, to a gradual return to service.
First the good news. MSC led the way not just in Europe but the entire industry, by being the first to return to cruising in Europe. They started with one ship sailing from Genoa, only Italian guests and only Italian ports, and strictly followed their new health and safety protocols. Shore leave for guests was in the form of ship organized tours with guests on tour in a COVID-free “bubble” that includes stringent requirements for tour operators, tour guides, drivers and venues. Any guest straying outside of that bubble would not be permitted to return to the ship. There have been a few guests who decided to test the theory and found MSC true to their word. And so MSC became a model for the industry. MSC was followed by AIDA, TUI and Costa, each adhering strictly to their protocols and having success while U.S. based cruise operations remained suspended pending the CDC’s decision on their No Sail Order, due to expire on October 31st.
On October 30th, (nothing like down to the wire) the CDC lifted the No Sail Order and replaced it with a Conditional Sail Order. From Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain: “This is really a big deal and we are really very excited about what the future holds for us. It’s not the end of the journey, but it is an important milestone on that journey and it provides a clear pathway for our resumption of service. Our industry has suffered over the long seven months, but now we finally have a pathway forward.” He’s right! There is a definite path forward, but the terrain will be challenging.
The Conditional Sail Order is a detailed and complicated road map for the industry to follow in their plans to resume service. In order to have the time needed to meet the requirements outlined, cruise operators decided to cancel any sailings planned for November and December and target the New Year. Almost an entire year with no ships sailing was inconceivable until now.
In its Order the CDC reserves the right to refuse an application or revoke a Certificate. They will issue a Conditional Sailing Certificate to cruise operators provided a number of conditions are met. Some of the requirements include:
- documented approval of all U.S. port and local health authorities where the ship intends to call
- building laboratories in the ship’s hospital so that testing can be done and results obtained onboard
- testing of crew on embarkation followed by a 14-day quarantine and ongoing weekly testing of crew
- successful simulated voyages with volunteers to test the efficacy of protocols
- restricted passenger voyages (in number of passengers and length of voyage)
It won’t be easy, but it’s doable. One of the hallmarks of this industry is their ability to make the seemingly impossible happen. And they make it look easy!
Their other hallmark is resilience. All cruise lines, big and small, are reporting strong demand for 2021 and 2022. It’s the good news story in an otherwise dismal news cycle, and a positive sign that this industry will be around for a long time.
This post was written by cruise industry expert, Shannon Mckee, founder of Access Cruise Inc. Access Cruise Inc is a Miami based cruise marketing and sales consulting group, specializing in product and business development within the cruise industry.