If you’re looking for a ray of light regarding a return to cruising, then Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald just said something extremely optimistic.
In a keynote address at Seatrade Cruise Virtual, Donald — along with three other major cruise executives — was asked about his optimism regarding cruising returning to the United States this year.
Cruises were suspended since March, with a mandatory “No Sail Order” from the CDC and a voluntary shutdown by the industry as a whole through Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). Both orders are currently set to expire at the end of October.
When asked if he thought U.S. cruising will come back in 2020, Donald said he was optimistic (though not certain) that, “Yes, we will be sailing sometime this year.”
“Our highest responsibilities, and therefore our top priorities are always compliance, environmental protection, and the health, safety, and well-being of our guests, of the people in the communities we touch, and the members of the Carnival family,” Donald said.
“And so it’s that commitment, which I know is shared across the industry… that commitment gives me the optimism that ‘Yes, we will be sailing sometime this year.'”
The question also asked participants to answer their confidence in a return to sailing in 2020 on a scale of one to five, with a five being extremely optimistic. On this scale, Carnival’s CEO said his optimism would be a “4.9.”
Notably, of the three other executives on the keynote address — Frank Del Rio of Norwegian, Richard Fain of Royal Caribbean, and Pierfrancesco Vago of MSC — none would put a number on their confidence level.
Later in the call, Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean did state “I am optimistic that we are going to start operating this year.”
Currently, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and MSC all have plans to restart some U.S. sailings in November. Carnival announced it is cancelling all cruises through the rest of 2020, except for those sailing from Miami and Port Canaveral, which are slated for the beginning of November.
Norwegian so far is the outlier. It just extended its suspension through November. During the address, Frank Del Rio addressed the reason for the extension, citing the time needed to get ships back from extended layup and ready to sail again.
Why Cruise Lines Are Confident of a Return
What makes cruise lines confident they can return to sailing this year?
One major factor is that the industry as a whole has committed to ensuring 100% of passengers and crew have a negative virus test before boarding.
While this step has been mentioned before, prior to today’s Seatrade keynote, CLIA made the following announcement:
CLIA ocean cruise line members worldwide have agreed to conduct 100% testing of passengers and crew on all ships with a capacity to carry 250 or more persons—with a negative test required for any embarkation. This is an industry first and an example of the cruise industry leading the way. We see testing as an important initial step to a multi-layered approach that we believe validates the industry’s commitment to making health, safety, and the well-being of the passengers, the crew, and the communities we visit our top priority.
Throughout the address, cruise line CEOs pointed repeatedly at the announced testing policy as a major differentiator from other travel. It was noted how no other travel sector does the same thing.
With cruise ships, however, the cruise line has much more control over the movement and activities of those on board. Not only can they require a negative test before boarding, but cruise lines can also control the activities and movements of those on the ship. Executives on the call pointed to this as a reason they think they can sail while keeping passengers healthy.
In addition, the CEOs mentioned the layered approach to safety they are planning to take. With the new 74-point plan that the “Healthy Sail Panel” released, for example, Norwegian CEO Frank Del Rio pointed out that if one point of the plan fails, there are 73 others to help ensure a smooth and safe cruise.
A Return Is Possible, But Not Definite
Of course, no matter how confident cruise lines CEOs say they are about a return to sailing, it is a big challenge to restart cruising. This is something that Donald and other cruise line executives were quick to point out to temper their optimism somewhat.
Not only are there new policies and procedures to put in place, but the safe return of cruising requires approval and coordination with many stakeholders.
The biggest obstacle cited during the address was the approval of the CDC to return to sailing by lifting the “No Sail Order.” Then there is working with ports, cities, counties and states to sail again. As well, foreign ports also have a say in whether ships can visit.
Furthermore, crews have to be brought in from around the world to man the ship, and vessels have to be prepared after lengthy layups. It also takes passengers feeling confident enough to sail again.
Even with these challenges, It seems clear that there is more optimism regarding a return to sailing soon than at any time in the past few months.