CRUISE LINE & CRUISE SHIP | PATRICK CLARKE
How We Got Here
The travel and tourism industry has been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but few sectors have been hit quite as hard as the cruise industry, which was brought to a screeching halt nearly eight months ago. With the return of cruising finally in sight, let's take a look back at how we got here with a recap of the last year.
Cruise lines started to feel the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in late-January when many began canceling sailings out of China and eliminating port calls in the Asian country. Astro Ocean Cruises, Costa Cruises, Genting Cruise Lines, MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean were among those to scrap itineraries.
As COVID-19 continued to spread around the world, February saw the Diamond Princess forced into quarantine as dozens of passengers tested positive for the coronavirus. Holland America Line's MS Westerdam was also impacted, with several countries, including the Philippines and Thailand, turning the ship away.
March was a brutal month for the cruise industry as the U.S. State Department advised citizens to avoid traveling on cruise ships due to the virus just days before the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic. Cruising would come to a halt completely in mid-March as companies announced a temporary pause in operations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its original no-sail order.
In April, Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund acquired an 8.2 percent stake in Carnival Corp. in a transaction worth approximately $370 million. A few days later, the CDC would extend the no-sail order for 100 days, meaning cruising wouldn't return until July 24, 2020, at the earliest.
With sailings still suspended in May, cruise lines sought out additional financing and announced layoffs and furloughs in efforts to stay in business. Australia and Canada also extended their cruise ship bans into the fall.
While expedition cruise line Hurtigruten resumed some coastal itineraries in Norway in June, the defining moment of the month came on June 19 when CLIA member cruise lines voluntarily extended the suspension of cruise operationsfrom U.S. ports through September 15, 2020.
In July, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line joined forces to develop the Healthy Sail Panel tasked with creating a new set of standards for cruise ships in the time of coronavirus. Meanwhile, the CDC extended the no-sail order for cruise ships through September 30, 2020. Shortly after, the public health institute opened a 60-day public comment period seeking input on how and if cruising could resume safely.
August began with CLIA members and other major cruise lines announcing the extension of cruise suspensions through October 31, 2020, while UnCruise Adventures was forced to cancel its altered Alaska season due to a positive COVID-19 test. August also saw MSC Cruises return to service in the Mediterranean.
Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio introduced the Set Sail Safely Act in September with the goal of aiding the industry's safe return. Later, CLIA announced mandatory health protocols for the controlled resumption of sailings. The month ended with the CDC again extending the no-sail order, this time for an additional month through October 31, 2020.
While cruise lines began the month of October by scrapping more future sailings, they finally received some positive news at the end of the month, when the CDC announced that it would allow its no-sail order to expire on October 31. The key decision clears the way for a conditional, phased-in return to cruising.
Cruise lines, including Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Carnival began November by announcing they would cancel North American sailings through the end of 2020 so that they could focus on meeting the conditions set forth by the CDC to ensure the safe resumption of sailing in 2021. CLIA also confirmed that its members would extend the voluntary suspension of cruise operations in the United States through December 31. With Seabourn and others seeing strong booking volume for future voyages, and volunteers lining up for test cruises, it would appear the cruise industry has put the worst behind it and can look forward to smoother sailing in the months to come.