The news last Friday that the CDC’s would allow its “no sail” order to expire at the end of October brought some optimism to the cruise industry that sailings could restart by the end of 2020. However, most major cruise lines, at the beginning of this week, announced they’d be pushing their restart date to 2021.
In a message to travel advisor partners this week, Royal Caribbean Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Richard Fain spoke about the news from the CDC, and gave more detail on the path forward for both Royal and the cruise industry as a whole.
“As you all know they made the decision to let the ‘no sail’ order lapse and to replace it with a new order called ‘The Framework for Condition Sailing.’ This is really a big deal,” he said.
Fain, in his message, recognized that last Friday’s announcement “was not the end of the journey” in returning to full operations, but said that it was an “important milestone on that journey” and that Royal now has a clear pathway to its resumption of service.
Fain also went back to the Healthy Sail Panel, which was created in partnership with Norwegian Cruise Line. Those 74 recommendations will serve as the bedrock of Royal’s restart. But, still, Fain stressed patience.
“It will take some time to go from where we are to our first commercial sailings. I can't wait, but it will take some time because this calls for a lot of details that will need to be specified, clarified, or justified over the coming weeks. We and the CDC have both committed to devote the time in the effort to find the best way to do that cooperatively, constructively, and to realize our common goal of restarting cruising here in the USA in a safe in a healthy manner,” Fain said.
Now, Royal’s attention will turn to first training the crew on the new procedures the CDC is requiring, which includes testing the crew before they leave home and after they arrive to their homeport and enforcing a quarantine period for each crew member.
Then, Royal will work on repositioning its ships and updating their certifications, which includes altering onboard public spaces to support physical distancing and upgrading the medical care onboard.
Only then will Royal be able to start its trial sailings. Fain said in his message that the trial sailings will give Royal a crucial opportunity to test the new protocols using employees and other volunteers to stand in for guests onboard.
Once the first guests are welcomed onboard and Royal starts its first commercial sailings, the process still won’t end, according to Fain.
“At every step of the way, we will be making tweaks and modifications to make sure things run smoothly. And then, when we welcome guests back onboard, we should have everything in place to operate safely...and still deliver all the elements of an amazing cruise vacation,” he said. “Then, we’ll continue to tweak the product as we always do.”
“We will continue always to make the cruise even safer and continue all ways to make the experience even better more memorable for your clients,” he said.
Talking about COVID-19 surges in Europe and, now, in the U.S., Fain, who generally avoided making predictions about the virus during the last eight months, was optimistic, calling it the virus’ “last big surge.” Fain said he was optimistic about the impact of masks, testing, therapies, and vaccines.
“While each of those factors will help contain the spread next year, it’s a carminative combination of all of these, taken together, that I hope will constrain the risk of the virus causing another comparable surge after we get through this current one,” he said.
“Our industry has suffered over the long seven months, but now we finally have a pathway forward. We have an opportunity to take advantage of the special expertise that we have obtained, we can take advantage of the lessons that we have learned, and take advantage of the science and medicine.”