Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., this week provided another video update on what’s happening within the cruise industry, and the travel industry at large, as COVID-19 continues to cause uncertainty.
Fain, while recognizing the toll that the virus has taken, said on a video available here, that there are “more examples than ever of the pandemic being managed and its risk being mitigated.”
“We’ve made it this far and there are positive signs emerging all around us,” he said. “Right now, the winds of changes are in the air.”
Fain cited breakthroughs in testing and progress being made with vaccines, as some of the big advances that are being made which will help bring some more certainty to the travel world.
“The key is science. Most importantly we understand the virus much better now than we did even weeks ago…As the doctors and hospitals improve the ability to treat COVID-19, they make the virus less and less threatening.”
While the timeline for a vaccine is farther out—Fain said that he believes that vaccines, which he called “the ultimate weapon against the virus,” will be available for widespread distribution sometime next year—faster and more accurate testing will have a quicker impact.
“It’s more and better testing and more and better contact tracing that will have the quickest impact in bringing COVID-19 to its knees,” he said.
Updates with the CDC
Fain, along with other cruise line executives, were on schedule to meet with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last Friday to talk about the future of the CDC’s “No-Sail” order.
That meeting, which was ultimately scrapped after news broke of President Trumps’ positive COVID-19 test, was scheduled to also discuss the findings from Royal’s and NLCH’s Healthy Sail Panel, which submitted its recommendations to the CDC last week.
Fain said in the video that he was proud that Royal was able to help put together a panel of experts like Dr. Scott Gottlieb and former Utah Governor and Sec. of Health and Human Service Mike Leavitt.
“Everyone uses experts for such a public panel, but I don’t know anyone anywhere in the world with a panel of such a distinguished group of people with such credentials and such extensive practical experience in these specialized fields,” he said.
Fain called the panel’s report, which included 74 total recommendations, including testing, face masks, and new sanitation and disinfection, a “four month scientific journey to protect the health of the American public.”
“We all know that you can’t eliminate all risk of COVID or anything else for that matter,” he said, noting that there were two specific goals behind the panel’s report—reducing the risk of COVID to below the level in guests’ home communities and ensuring that cruise lines can properly handle a COVID outbreak onboard.
“We intend to make our ships an environment, a bubble if you will, that actually representatives less risk than in their home communities on land,” he said.
Fain called the universal testing decision one of the biggest points, something that CLIA now requires with the restart, noting that no other section of the industry does universal testing and that the lines who have restarted in Europe, including some of Royal’s lines, have been successful with it.
The contact tracing and the universal testing onboard could create a “bubble,” Fain said, creating an environment close to the NBA’s playoff bubble in Orlando, which has produced negative COVID tests for hundreds of players and staff over and over again.
As to when Royal’s ships may begin sailing, Fain couldn’t offer a date but he said that when Royal does restart, it will be done slowly ship-by-ship.
“We hope to have the opportunity to put our plans to the test. It’s not going to happen overnight,” he said.
Royal will first look to train its crew on the new protocols and then do some test sailings before opening it up to guests. Those first guest sailings will include limited destinations, with just a few ships, and only a small number of shore excursions on offer.
“We understand the importance of getting this right,” he said. “I am immensely proud of our people for sticking with us and helping to get this right. The day is closer than ever that we can meet in person.”