February Was A Brutal Month For The Cruise Industry

Cruise Week

Mark Conroy

February was undoubtedly the worst month in the history of 54-year-old Princess Cruises. And it was no picnic for the rest of the cruise industry.

But it was a symbol of progress, arguably, that during the last week of the month Diamond Princess was cleared of its remaining passengers, and the visual of the cruise industry being the "poster child of coronavirus" -- to quote NCLH's Frank Del Rio -- may begin to fade.

This is not to say the Diamond-related news has stopped. There are now six dead, including the first Australian to die of Coronavirus: The 78-year-old man passed away after returning from quarantine onboard Diamond to quarantine in Perth.

Even aside from Coronavirus, Princess had challenges in February: two Caribbean Princess sailings were cut short due to norovirus, and the Regal Princess failed the U.S. Public Health Sanitation inspection by a wide margin: its 77 rating was the lowest sanitation score we've seen for Princess Cruises.

Symbolic Steps

All that said there are small but symbolic signs of progress, such as the cruise industry's slight bounce-back on the stock market on 28FEB, with all three publicly-traded lines trading up. Even so, for the month of February, Carnival Corp. finished down 20%, NCLH 21% and Royal Caribbean 24% -- percentage declines far greater than those of airlines and hotels.

The dawn of March also marks how North American pax are at last out of harm's way in Asia, with ship tracker Othell Owensby noting well more than a dozen ships are out of service, some idle, some moving around without passengers. Others are heading to points far away from the current trouble spots.

By 1MAR, the luxury cruise ship industry had basically left Asia. Among the last Asian departures to be cancelled were the 1 and 13MAR sailings of Seven Seas Voyager, and the 3, 17 and 28MAR sailings of Crystal Serenity. Looking further ahead, Crystal also cancelled the 24APR sailing of Crystal Symphony.

One luxury ship still sailing in Asia is Silver Spirit which, having just completed a rerouting cruise from Manila to Singapore, began its Singapore to Mumbai sailing this weekend.

Mark Conroy, managing director, The Americas for Silversea says, "We are monitoring the situation closely and so far we feel comfortable with operating this cruise."

Silver Spirit is not headed for current troubled coronavirus spots. For instance, the current leg of the trip includes calls in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, before arriving in Mumbai/Bombay on 15MAR. So far there have been no reports of coronavirus in any of these areas.

"We are also operating the Silver Muse cruise from Sydney to Yokohama and Yokohama to Vancouver," reports Conroy.

Fine-Tuning Efforts

Conroy adds that Silversea is operating "in coordination with CLIA, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health organization, and continue to fine-tune our efforts to keep the virus off the ship."

For instance, he notes that guests who have travelled from, visited or transited through airports in China, including Hong Kong and Macau, as well as Iran, South Korea and specific areas of Italy, within 15 days of their voyage embarkation, regardless of nationality, will not be allowed to board any Silversea vessel.

CLIA's Messaging

Conroy's messaging ties in that of CLIA. Anne Madison, who heads up strategic communications for the cruise line association, points out, "The only ship that had any cases [Diamond Princess] departed in the first part of JAN. There haven't been any since then among the 272 ships in CLIA's fleet."

What has happened since late JAN is an intense series of changes that she says have been growing in number, "immediately upon the declaration of the global health emergency."

CLIA, says Madison, is in constant communications, with the escalated meetings involving the Global Executive Committee just being one example.

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