Where we are today
This weekend marked a big milestone for the cruise industry – every major cruise line has returned to revenue cruises since the start of the pandemic, almost 17 months since cruise lines around the world voluntarily shut down. These ships have resumed sailing in regions all over the world – Alaska, the Caribbean, Europe, the Galapagos, Asia, and the Middle East – with varying levels of protocols in place dependent on the specific brand and itinerary (see BAs dashboard for protocol summary by line/itinerary).
Today, over 120 ships are carrying vacation travelers again. By October, based on current announcements by operators, that figure will jump to ~190 ships, which equates to over half of the global fleet in terms of lower berths. By year’s end, operators have announced that ~220 ships plan to be in operation. A snapshot of the ships in operation today from the major brands, and their anticipated ships in operation in October and December, are shown below.
A Snapshot of Ships Sailing by Major Cruise Line, July – December:
What does the future hold?
While this is positive news for the industry overall, some questions remain as to the overall speed and recovery of the industry. First, the Delta variant causing COVID-19 cases to spike around the world raises the question if this will impact cruising. Today, impacts appear to be concentrated to itinerary changes (to avoid destinations with high infection rates) and protocols, such as mask requirements that were previously not mandated (for example on the all-vaccinated Norwegian Jade in Greece). Pent-up demand does not appear to be impacted by the variant, according to CruiseCritic.com.
“Cruise Planners said that cruise bookings were up 27% week over
week, with prices increasing on some itineraries. Slightly more than
30% of new cruise purchases had a 2021 departure date.”
However, given the new variant, and the most effective COVID-fighting strategy (vaccination), the successful protocols cruise operators have in place today may continue to remain in effect for many months to come. A further indication of this comes from the ongoing legal debate in Florida over whether or not the CDCs CSO is binding. RCG, NCL, and Carnival Corp. have already confirmed that they will continue to follow all CDC guidelines and recommendations on a voluntary basis. More operators are expected to do the same.
The protocols appear to be working, and more importantly, they are helping the public regain confidence in cruising. Since resumption, an estimated 900k passengers have sailed, and there have been only 31 COVID cases identified on cruise ships. That is an infection rate of 0.003%.
Regardless of the industry’s success given the many hurdles it has overcome, the ramp-up of cruising will take time, with fewer vessels returning and at much lower capacities. The economies of many port communities rely on cruise tourism, and the last 17 months have been a challenge. Nonetheless, the fact that all major cruise operators have resumed sailing in some capacity brings new hope and excitement that the path to recovery is well underway.
Please visit BA’s live dashboard to follow the cruise industry’s latest resumption plans in terms of CDC approvals, ships and lower berths scheduled to resume sailing by month, along with those brands that are returning to service with vaccine requirements.