Cruise Industry Response to Coronavirus
Updated: May 24
“Wow.” I don’t know if there is a better word to capture current world events related to Coronavirus. Just. Wow.
At the time of this writing, the U.S. government has stopped allowing people from 26 European countries to fly here, some countries have quarantines and some ports won’t allow visiting cruise ships. Viking Cruises, AmaWaterways and Uniworld have all suspended sailings until late April while Disney Cruise Line announced their suspension through the end of March. Princess Cruises has suspended sailings through May 10. Major theme parks are temporarily closing, and some tour operators have canceled soon-departing motorcoach tours. Oh, and some lines are now requiring guests over 70 to have a “medically fit” certificate completed by a physician. (To say I'm not a fan of that is an understatement, but that's a whole different conversation.)
Virtually all major cruise lines and other travel industry suppliers are relaxing cancellation policies so people are more comfortable waiting to see how the virus plays out and to feel more in control regarding booking further in the future, knowing they can cancel if need be.
We keep hearing on the news and in the travel industry that everything about this virus that we’re learning and policies pertaining to it are “fluid” meaning constantly changing. That’s truth “in the real world” and in the travel industry. If I stop writing this article long enough to make a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner, there will likely be another change. 😉
Don’t be mistaken that this is a “doom and gloom” article because it’s not.
I’ve been a travel agent for decades. I’m often able to draw on history and my “gut feelings” to crystal ball some of the future and expectations in the travel industry. I’ve been through SARS, MERS, Ebola, Zika, Dengue and Swine Flu not to mention countless other events, but none were relentlessly reported by the news media and traveled so swiftly around the world.
Again, this isn’t “doom and gloom.” It’s about surviving and thriving.
Travel agents do this job because we enjoy being part of the creation of adventures, experiences and memories for people. Seeing customers disappointed as they cancel trips or have them canceled is NOT our thing. Guiding clients through decision-making, advocating for them and problem-solving are our strengths. So we’re not having fun, we are saddened by our clients’ disappointment and we are thriving despite losing sleep and rising blood pressure.
I’m being asked what I think about more lenient cancellation policies. I’m all for anything that makes clients more confident in decisions to make future plans while knowing they have more control because of those relaxed policies.
I’m also being asked what I think of cruise lines temporarily suspending sailings. Admittedly, I had to initially wrap my head around this, but I quickly saw the value. Yes, I can both hate it and see value in it.
Suspended sailings have resulted in some clients who are benefiting because they were about to cancel including some whose employers were enforcing travel bans or requiring post-trip quarantines before coming to work. The lenient cancellation plans offering future cruise credits or partial refunds were good, but if it’s the cruise line canceling the sailing it means more generous compensation for canceled guests.
Suspended sailings mean probably getting past these government and employer travel bans and imposed quarantines by the time the ships are sailing.
Suspended sailings means ships not sailing with a high percentage of unsold cabins.
Suspended sailings means the cruise line industry can create and put in place new protocols that strengthen the industry and benefit travel consumers. It means ships as close to being sterilized as is reasonably possible and fresh crews and ports that will greet ship guests with open arms as they start rebuilding their tourism.
I believe the next month or two are important for people and governments to stop knee-jerk responses and to work globally and with top medical people toward curbing COVID-19 and how it’s being handled. It will also give the news media something else to do rather than build hysteria.
Meanwhile, I see cruise lines and industry organizations stepping up to the bat on creating new screenings, policies and sanitation methods which will keep guests and crew even safer. Because the cruise industry has always displayed an amazing ability for large companies to quickly respond to unwelcome world events, to step up to the bat, be innovative and respond as global leaders.
So yes, after I got past the astonishment of cruise lines temporarily canceling sailings, I moved on to --- surprisingly--- gratitude. Hopefully by the time suspensions have ended, the world will be more sane. We will all need some laughter, beauty and adventure. Ocean and river cruises can provide all three.