Cruisers not deterred by coronavirus pandemic, still booking future voyages, experts say

Cruisers not deterred by coronavirus pandemic, still booking future voyages, experts say

While the coronavirus pandemic has put the cruise industry on hold, many cruisers aren't feeling deterred, even after watching multiple ships sail into chaos because of the virus.

"Cruisers are eager to get back to their long-awaited vacation plans," Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners, told USA TODAY.

She noted her clients are ready to get back on board, and her team is having conversations across social media with cruisers about travel options in the fall and early 2021. It helps, she told USA TODAY, to avoid "cabin fever."

"Our travel advisers are working around the clock to rebook their clients' honeymoons, family cruises and even destination weddings using future cruise credits offered by the cruise lines​," Fee said.

Booking on the rise

At investment banking company UBS, analysts said booking volume for 2021 cruises had gone up by 9% in a 30-day period versus the year before, an April 1 article from the New York Post reported.

Fee said she is seeing that increase come alive in her own business.

"Despite cruise ships currently being quarantined amid the coronavirus pandemic, Cruise Planners is also experiencing a strong 2021 pacing at 15% ahead for cruise departures,” Fee said.

Though Fee said "the numbers are changing daily and being closely monitored," she said Cruise Planners is seeing cruise departures for 2021 leading with Europe as a top destination, with a large focus on European river cruising, followed by the Caribbean and Alaska.

Carnival Corp.'s CEO, Arnold Donald, told CNBC on Tuesday that booking is ramping up for 2021. He said the devastation to the industry caused by the coronavirus is temporary: Travel will return.

“When it does, we’ll return with it. Social gathering at some point will return, and when it does, people will want to cruise,” Donald said on CNBC’s Closing Bell. “We’ve had substantial bookings. Bookings for 2021 are strong.”

Carnival Corp. is the parent company to several major cruise lines, including Holland America Line and Princess Cruises. Both lines have hosted multiple coronavirus sagas on ships such as the Diamond Princess, the Ruby Princess, the Grand Princess, the MS Westerdam and MS Zaandam and MS Rotterdam.

USA TODAY reached out to Carnival Corp. for comment.

What cruisers are saying

Tanner Callais, founder of Cruzely.com, cruises about four times a year, for work more often than vacation now, but enjoys it nonetheless. And in spite of the pandemic, he's ready to get back on the water.

While cruise ships have been at the center of the coronavirus storm, Callais doesn't see ships as more dangerous than other social gatherings.

"Despite the headlines, it's not as if the cruise lines are spraying passengers down with the virus," he said. "The outbreaks are simply the result of being in close proximity to others. To me, there is no more risk of getting sick on a cruise as there is to being at a concert or a crowded airport."

Callais doesn't have any future voyages booked yet, but he plans to be on one of the first vessels out when this is all over – just with plenty of hand sanitizer. If he can sail again, that will mean the outbreak is largely over, and that is something to look forward to.

Donovan Fredricksen, administrator of a Facebook group for frequent cruisers called Cruise Crazed and a cruise blogger, told USA TODAY that for the most part, cruisers seem to be missing their favorite travel option.

He echoed Callais' thought that the return of cruising will mean the return of normalcy.

"For some of us that’s a way of life, I mean we cruise a lot," he said.Cruisers seem to be eager for life to get back to normal, as "we all are."

"I do hear a lot of frustration of vacation plans being canceled as the return to cruising dates continue to slip farther into the future," Fredricksen said.

But more people might be willing to hit the high seas if more precautions are taken by lines to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, along with other kinds of outbreaks.

Suzanne Suwanda, a former passenger of Princess Cruises' Grand Princess, which was infected by the coronavirus, said she will keep cruising on her list of travel after the pandemic passes, but she says cruise lines need to make some changes.

"I think the cruise lines need to step up to this challenge and establish systems to keep their crews safe and healthy so that passengers can be confident when they decide to travel, just as we do when we book air travel or eat in a restaurant," Suwanda said.

While Callais was optimistic about getting back on a ship, he too is looking for clarity on what cruise lines will do if something like this happens again.

"I'd also like to know there is a plan to deal with any potential illness instead of seeing ships stranded for days looking for a port to accept them," he said.

While Callais is eager to get back to it, he understands cruises – along with sporting events and concerts – will likely be one of the last vestiges of normalcy to resume.

"The last thing I want to see is for the industry to return before the outbreak is over. Another big outbreak on a cruise ship would be devastating."

Cruise lines suspending operations

Cruise lines around the globe have suspended operations for varying periods of time. Many have taken steps to extend their suspensions.

One line, Adventure Canada, has canceled its entire 2020 sailing season, according to Cruise Critic, which is keeping track of the dates various cruise lines have announced they will resume service.

However, cruise lines' suspension dates are likely to change after the extension of the CDC's "no-sail order" was announced April 9.

"We are aware of the CDC order and are studying how best to respond to its provisions. Our global sailings are currently suspended through May 11, 2020," Fishman said of Royal Caribbean's plans.

The CDC order states that cruise ships can't board passengers and return to their sailing schedules until one of three events takes place:

Expiration of the Department of Health and Human Services' declaration that COVID-19 constitutes a public health emergency.The CDC director's own decision to modify or rescind its no-sail decision.Passage of 100 days from the time the new order is published in the Federal Register.

Until then, the about 100 cruise ships in the Atlantic, Pacific or Gulf of Mexico must remain idle, either in port or wallowing at anchor, the CDC said. Those ships currently have nearly 80,000 crew aboard.

White House task force:Quietly softened cruise ship no-sail restrictions after months of industry deference

Diamond Princess, Grand Princess:Cruise line had high rates of illness even before coronavirus

Contributing: Chris Woodyard

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/cruises/2020/04/16/cruisers-still-booking-trips-spite-coronavirus-pandemic/2868160001/

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