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Cruise Executives Optimistic Cruises Can Restart from U.S. This Year
Seatrade Virtual 2020 State of the Cruise Industry panel

Cruise Executives Optimistic Cruises Can Restart from U.S. This Year

Cruise Executives Optimistic Cruises Can Restart from U.S. This Year
Seatrade Virtual 2020 State of the Cruise Industry panel

October 06, 2020

Aaron Saunders
By Aaron Saunders
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(11:30 a.m. EDT) -- Cruise executives are optimistic that sailings are close to restarting from the United States this year, as testing for COVID-19 improves and recommendations from the industry's Healthy Sail Panel have been formally submitted to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Speaking at the State of the Industry keynote speech at Tuesday's Seatrade conference, which is being held virtually for the first time, leading cruise heads Arnold Donald, Frank Del Rio, Richard Fain and Pierfrancesco Vago expressed confidence in the safety protocols that are in place for a restart of cruise, along with optimism that sailings could still resume later this year within the United States.
"Yes, we will be sailing sometime this year," said Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald. "On a scale of 1 to 5, I'll say a 4.9 in terms of optimism. I know the commitment of this industry to make certain…we're going to stand out relative to the rest of the travel sector, with protocols that go well beyond what anyone else is doing."
"I'm not very good at putting probabilities on things, but my optimism level is very high," said Royal Caribbean chairman and CEO Richard Fain on restarting its brands this year. He noted that the lines would start with non-revenue test cruises first, mostly short sailings to private islands. "We're not going to do it until we're all confident that it is safe and healthy."
That sentiment for a measured but optimistic restart was echoed by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and CEO Frank Del Rio.
"This is not a race," stated Del Rio. "I am in no rush to be the first one out of the gate. I want to do this correctly.
"As others have said we will not cruise until we believe it is 100 percent safe to, but it's coming soon. Whether it's December 22 or January 3, I think we're in the ballpark. If a number of things go our way, I think we could be sailing soon."
M S C  G R A N D I O S A  R E A D Y  T O  D E P A R T  G E N O A
Pierfrancesco Vago, MSC Cruises chairman, noted MSC has already seen tremendous success in restarting cruises around the Mediterranean for European citizens by rolling out some of the most stringent health and safety protocols. He expressed optimism for a restart of MSC cruises outside of Europe.
"I am very optimistic in general," said Vago. "I feel in this business you have to be very optimistic."

Time to Restart Vessels A Factor

With a planned meeting between White House officials and cruise industry representatives on hold as a result of U.S. President Donald Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis on Friday, the timeline to restart cruise within the United States is still in flux.
"We did cancel cruising through the end of November," said Del Rio, addressing Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' recent suspension of sailing for its Norwegian, Oceania and Regent brands. "People have to understand that it takes time to stand up a ship, especially ships that have now been laid up for six-plus months. It is not turning on a light switch. We have to repatriate crew. We have to install the new technologies and implement 74 recommendations from the Healthy Sail Panel."
Del Rio pointed out he expects it will take Norwegian's cruise brands approximately 60 days to bring each of its vessels up to full operational capacity.
"Certainly the number one obstacle that we need to overcome is the No Sail Order, but there are others. We believe that it will take at least 60 days to stand up a vessel. It's literally impossible for us to operate in the month of November -- perhaps others can or will -- but we're looking at a post-November restart date."
Ahead of the start of the State of the Industry Address, CLIA president and CEO Kelly Craighead noted the industry is currently losing up to 25,000 jobs per day.
MSC Cruises MSC Grandiosa Antigen swab test

COVID Testing to Be Conducted by All CLIA-Member Lines Worldwide

CLIA announced it would commit to having its member lines, which make up the majority of the world's cruise fleet, test every passenger and crewmember for COVID-19 before being allowed to embark. Executives agreed this mandatory testing, and the quality of tests that are now available that did not exist this past spring, will be key to a resumption of cruise in the Americas and beyond.
"A lot of people aren't so concerned about getting the disease; they're concerned about someone else getting the disease and their holiday is ruined because of it," said Fain. "The Healthy Sail Panel spent a lot of time focusing on that, and the result has been that we have extensive protocols…you take care of that case and isolate those people, but you don't do it elsewhere."
Fain pointed out the recent outbreak aboard TUI's Mein Schiff 6, which turned out to be false-positives. The crew suspected of being positive for COVID-19 were tested in Piraeus and, following the COVID-negative diagnosis, the ship and its passengers continued on its way.
"We dealt with it quickly, we dealt with it properly, and it didn't affect the other guests onboard," said Fain. "No other government resources were need to deal with the problem because we had taken the issue under our consideration and we focused on it."
On the subject of the high-profile spring outbreaks of COVID-19 aboard vessels like Diamond Princess in Japan and Grand Princess off the coast of California, executives said the perception of cruises as unsafe is something that isn't warranted.
"We believe what's happened in the last six months is unfortunate," said Norwegian's Del Rio. "We are the only ones that have been shut down, period, end of story."
"The other thing you're hearing from us is a level of collaboration," said Royal Caribbean's Fain. "We're all learning about COVID. We're all learning about testing and working with governments abroad, in Europe, in Asia, in the United States. I think we have a set of procedures that really put us in a position where we can say, 'Yes, we really can provide a healthy cruise.'
"Testing and contact tracing, which ties in very closely with testing, those will dramatically change things in society and on a cruise ship."
Frank Del Rio pointed out that in the past six months, when cruises have not been operating, other high-profile COVID outbreaks have occurred around the world.
"I don't think it the stigma around cruise will be lasting," he said. "I think its lingered around a bit. We've seen in the past six months those kinds of events occur throughout society. Look what happened
last Friday in Washington, D.C
"This has been a safe and healthy industry. We hear about the virus onboard the ships because we're the only industry that has to report instances of disease onboard. Hotels don't have to do it, resorts don't have to do it, airlines don't have to do it. We do it. We think that makes us better operationally because we are transparent. By law we have to report it. And we are happy to do it."
Jointly, all executives spoke at length how important a safe, measured restart of cruise operations is. Royal Caribbean committed to doing a series of test sailings first, with only employees and crew onboard, followed by a series of shorter voyages, to ensure the protocols created by the Healthy Sail Panel, which was spearheaded by Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, work as intended.
"I think we've all worked very collaboratively," noted Fain. "All of us have relied on experts and consulted with the leading figures in the medical field and public health.
"Having a nice simple document the Healthy Sail Panel recommendations to work from has been constructive. It shows how much we've learned, how far we've come in six months. As Arnold Donald said, the fact that we've started up in Europe has been under very strict protocols. It has been done in cooperation with the governments there, and the CDC has been watching that."

"A Bump in the Road"

Several executives noted that, while delayed, newbuilds are proceeding as planned. Bookings, even in an uncertain time marked by limited marketing and advertising spending, continue to be strong.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' Frank Del Rio noted that two of its brands -- Oceania and Regent -- have seen some of their strongest bookings ever. In the case of Regent, its 2023 World Cruise sold out just weeks after it was announced. This is an expensive, bucket-list voyage aboard a luxury operator that further speaks to the cruise industry's resilience.
"We're seeing that cruising is going to come back strong," said Del Rio. "This is a bump in the road. We're going to come back smarter and in a way that puts health and safety even more at the forefront than it ever has before."
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