What next for Royal Caribbean and Carnival as Norwegian extends suspension and CDC says ‘we don’t know when it will be safe to sail again’

Cruise stocks were sent into a tailspin as hopes of an August return to cruising were dealt a blow Tuesday when Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced an extension of its previously announced suspension of global cruise voyages to include all voyages embarking between August 1 and September 30, 2020, while earlier in the day the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said: “We don’t have enough information at this time to say when it will be safe to resume sailing with passengers.”

Norwegian had announced last month that it planned to commence a phased return to sailing on August 1 and had also released detailed health protocols ahead of the planned resumption.

The extension applies to all three of its brands Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and will apply to all voyages excluding Seattle-based Alaska voyages.

Carnival Cruises and Royal Caribbean had also announced plans for an August 1 phased return, but now that Norwegian has postponed its return, the question is will they follow suit or forge ahead with plans to sail in August.

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Carnival Corporation: Not predicting anything

Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald dampened expectations that the world’s largest cruise operator will resume sailing on August 1 in a series of interviews this week.

Donald said Carnival would only go ahead with its plans once conditions enabled it to sail with “no greater risk, or even lower risk, then other forms of social gathering.”

In an interview with the UK daily, The Telegraph, Donald said: “We’re not trying to predict when we’ll open up but we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to. But it’s obviously dependent on what’s in the best interest of public health, not about cruise but about broad social gathering… if people are in restaurants, hotels, airport terminals and subway stations, if a social gathering is happening, then it’s a condition for cruise.

“But if we’re still in a state of highly constrained social gathering then it’s not the right situation. So, we’ll see where society is at that point. We’re aware that people are anxious to get their economies going again, people are definitely anxious to cruise. We continue to get bookings and so on. So, we’re anxious to go, too. But we only want to do it when the time is right so I think that there is a broader societal metric that we have to look  at – we can’t just look wholly at cruise.”

Carnival CEO cruises interview

CDC: Not enough information right now

Add to that a statement by the CDC on Tuesday and things are not looking too optimistic right now.

Announcing its color-coded system for repatriating cruise crew, the CDC said that meeting the criteria does not mean cruise ships can resume passenger operations.

“We don’t have enough information at this time to say when it will be safe to resume sailing with passengers. Cruise lines may need to establish additional safety measures before sailing with passengers is permitted to resume. CDC will continue to evaluate and update its recommendations as the situation evolves,” read a statement.

The CDC’s 100-day COVID-19 no-sail order currently runs until July 24.

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Royal Caribbean: Hard to guess

While Carnival Corporation seems to have prepared the market for the possibility that it won’t resume cruising on August 1, Royal Caribbean is harder to guess.

Chairman and CEO Richard Fain has continued to muse philosophically about when a return to cruising might be possible, saying just that the company would “proceed cautiously” and that when it did resume cruising it would do so with “unparalleled health protocols.”

“We need to raise the bar to new heights, and we have teams of doctors, of scientists, of epidemiologists, and teams of people who know our business, all looking hard and charting the safest and surest path forward that we can,” Fain said.

But that was prior to the Norwegian announcement. Speaking Wednesday, Royal Caribbean Account Executive Brittany Yochum gave away nothing.

“I know that we have other lines that have obviously extended their cancellations and there are changes daily, and each line does look at the situation individually and makes their own decision. So we are constantly looking at this situation,” she said in a webinar with travel agents reported by royalcaribbeanblog.com

Meanwhile, in Europe, Norway’s Hurtigruten became the world’s first ocean cruise liner to return to water this week and several European river boat cruise operators are starting up operations again.

In the US, it looks like cruise fans may have a little longer to wait.

 

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