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More Cruise Lines Delay Resumption of Sailings

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File image courtesy Royal Caribbean

By Allan E. Jordan 04-17-2020 05:19:00

Royal Caribbean has become the latest of the major cruise companies to announce that it was further delaying its target date to resume cruising until mid-June.  The announcement followed similar statements from the lines owned by Carnival Corporation.

"Given global public health circumstances, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has decided to extend the suspension of sailings of our global fleet through June 11, 2020,” the company said in a statement on April 16. Its North American cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara, confirmed the extension of the global suspension in cruising for their ships. Its international brands, including Silversea Cruises and TUI, currently continue to reflect sailings resuming in mid-May. Royal Caribbean's Spanish line Pullmantur Cruises is targeting the beginning of June to resume its sailings.

“Though hopeful that returning to service ahead of summer vacation plans would be an option,” Celebrity Cruises said in announcing the cancelation of its May and early June cruises, “we all must continue to do our part in the global efforts to further contain the spread of this illness.” 

Speaking on a media conference call earlier in the day, Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corporation & plc, expressed a similar sentiment, explaining that based on the continuing efforts to contain the virus the timing was not right to resume cruising.  “Cruising by definition is social gathering . . . When society is ready, we can talk about resuming cruising,” said Donald, explaining that the return to cruising would be driven by society’s response. 

Royal Caribbean International noted that “the decision to voluntarily suspend our sailings departing from US ports,” had been announced on March 13, and the next day it suspended operations for the remainder of its sailings worldwide. Less than two weeks later, the suspension was extended until May 11, 2020.  “Now, after consulting with our partners at Cruise Lines International Association and in conjunction with the CDC,” Royal Caribbean explained, “our global suspension has been extended – all sailings departing on and before June 11th, 2020 will be canceled.”  Both companies also noted that sailings to Alaska and Canada would also be impacted by the Canadian ports that are currently scheduled to remain closed until July 1.

These announcements came a day after Royal Caribbean said it was laying off or furloughing approximately 26 percent of the more than 5,000 people it employs in the United States. Analysts point out that these steps are the latest efforts to reduce costs while the company faces a combination of challenges - no revenue, added costs from passenger cancellations and greatly reduced levels of future bookings. Royal Caribbean also noted that it had previously announced the early conclusion of many crew contracts.

The 61 cruise ships operated by Royal Caribbean and its partner brands currently are idled in or near ports around the world.  A number of the company’s ships, including the Ovation of the Seas, Spectrum of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas, and the Azamara Journey, recently sailed from Australia and are now arriving in Indonesian waters.  Working with local authorities, the company intends to complete the repatriation of its Indonesian and Filipino crew - mostly from the ships’ hotel areas - as these ships reach port. Other crewmembers from the ships currently in North America, the Caribbean, and the Bahamas were transported home on charter flights. Ships from its Silversea Cruises brand are working to either repatriate crew by flights from the Canary Islands or possibly use some of the ships to transport the crew to Europe.

Despite the unprecedented events of the past few months, Royal Caribbean’s management remains confident that it will see a successful return of cruising.  In the interim, its customer relations efforts have largely shifted online with social media initiatives to maintain relationships with travelers and direct outreach to the travel advisor community.

Allan Jordan is a regular contributor to The Maritime Executive Magazine's print and online editions.