The next three months will be critical for how the CDC views a return to cruising, Norwegian Cruise CEO Frank Del Rio said Thursday during a Second Quarter earnings conference call.
“In terms of where we stand with the CDC, look, I think the next 60 to 90 days are going to be very, very key,” Del Rio said.
The Norwegian CEO noted that the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had issued a request for information – a list of 28 questions related to the resumption of passenger operations aboard cruise ships which the public and industry stakeholders have been given until September 21 to answer – saying that he had been told the CDC had received thousand of comments.
“Around the same time,” Del Rio said, “our panel is going to be completing at least their first initial set of recommendations, which we, along with Royal, will look to implement in our return to sail protocols that we will submit about the same time as the RFI.”
The panel Del Rio was referring to is the Healthy Sail Panel set up along with Royal Caribbean Group to develop enhanced cruise health and safety standards in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
A speedy return to service?
Norwegian Cruise CEO Del Rio continued that the CDC “will have a lot of information to comb through and digest and opine on, let’s say, beginning in Q4. And so we’ll see how they react to it.
We’re confident that our — the panel is going to come up with key science-based recommendations that the cruise industry can implement. That should be impressive to the cruise industry — to the CDC. And then there’s the hope that during the same time, the prevalence of the pandemic will subside to more manageable levels, and that the combination of the two will lead to a speedy return to service.”
Norwegian Cruise CEO: Road map for return to cruising
Del Rio also spelled out Norwegians four-stage road map for returning to cruising:
Stage one is the development of enhanced health and safety programs.
“Nothing is more important for the sustained restart of cruise operations than the implementation of health and safety protocols that protect those onboard our vessels and provide guests with greater confidence in our ability to deliver a safe and healthy vacation environment,” Del Rio said.
He continued that the Health and Safety Panel founded with Royal Caribbean Group and headed by Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Governor, Mike Leavitt, former Secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services, “demonstrated our absolute commitment to the common goal of combating the spread of COVID-19 and bringing back the cruise industry operations sooner rather than later.”
Stage two is determining port availability, both for home porting and for ports of call.
“”Conversations continue with key destinations regarding the reopening of ports and the resumption of calls. The key theme in these conversations is naturally the enhanced health and safety protocols as destinations look to cruise lines and public health officials to develop and approve these new procedures. This step is critical as it will allow for destinations to prepare their ports, their terminals, crew operations and other considerations for these new procedures,” Del Rio said.
Norwegian Cruise CEO Del Rio described stage three as stepping up the “marketing engine,” and stage four as “the gradual sailing and relaunch of our ships.
The Norwegian CEO said stage four would commence with the launch of a handful of vessels, likely at some reduced occupancy level, followed by the gradual addition of the rest of the fleet. He estimated a full return to cruising would take at least 6 months to complete.