How Coronavirus Is Hitting the Cruise Line Industry
Coronavirus Is Hitting the Cruise Line Industry Hard
SHA’s Christopher Muller on what steps companies need to take to win back vacationers
During the current coronavirus epidemic, cruise ships have become the perfect petri dish that allows the virus to thrive and spread quickly. Why? The vessels’ tight, close-knit quarters and population of international passengers and crew, all with different levels of immunity, are key factors, the BBC reports.
Earlier this month, more than 690 passengers on Carnival Cruise Line’s Diamond Princess were quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, after testing positive for the virus, and 4 of them died. The Westerdam, operated by Holland America, which is owned by Carnival, was denied entry at ports in five different countries after a female passenger was misdiagnosed with the virus. The World Dream (a Genting Hong Kong Ltd. cruise ship), was held in Hong Kong for four days when passengers who had already disembarked from a previous cruise were found to be infected; no one on that ship ultimately was diagnosed with coronavirus.
These outbreaks have placed the $45 billion cruise line industry in peril, as the virus is forcing companies like Royal Caribbean and Carnival to cancel trips and adjust itineraries. The travel industry isn’t the only one affected—on Monday, stocks tumbled globally after reports that coronavirus outbreaks were increasing outside China, reaching South Korea and Italy, among other countries.
The same day, the US State Department urged cruise ship travelers with itineraries to or within Asia to consider canceling their trips. “This is a dynamic situation and US citizens traveling by ship may be impacted by travel restrictions affecting their itineraries or ability to disembark, or may be subject to quarantine procedures implemented by the local authorities,” the State Department statement reads.
Christopher Muller, a School of Hospitality Administration professor of the practice, is a travel industry expert whose research focuses on corporate and chain restaurant management. He was dean of SHA from 2010 through 2012 and has done training and development work with Costa Cruises and has worked as well as a consultant to the cruise industry.
BU Today spoke to Muller for insights into how cruise lines are dealing with the coronavirus and whether or not he believes they can recover from the financial damage and loss of public trust.
With Christopher Muller
BU Today: Before coronavirus, the cruise industry was increasingly targeting the Chinese market. Can you talk about the direction the cruise industry in Asia was taking before this crisis?
Muller: They expanded their inventory, meaning the number of ships and cabins available. They increased the number of cabins from about four million to five million, thinking business would expand 20 to 30 percent. That’s mostly the Chinese market, using Hong Kong and Macau as bases. Coronavirus has led to a 15 percent decline in business. Part of it is that people are canceling and just not booking. This is a big setback for the plans to grow.
Outside Asia, last week Richard Branson launched a brand-new cruise line with the ship the Scarlet Lady. It will start its Caribbean cruises in late March, and two more ships are on the way.
Have the cruise lines learned anything from previous outbreaks—norovirus, for instance? How will the coronavirus affect their business in the next year or so?
In 2013, when Carnival and other lines were affected with norovirus and Legionnaires disease, they learned something. The fastest way to change public opinion was to go to the next nearest port as soon as there was an infection, with 10 or 12 cases, and pull everyone off the ship and make a big public showing of disinfecting the ship. If you don’t keep people locked up, you keep people from getting infected. This time around, though, the government did keep people on the ship. In the case of the Diamond Princess, more than 600 people got sick because they were kept on the ship.
There’s a six- to nine-month lag time [following a wide-spread contamination], and then people tend to forget about it. The industry is selling luxury; a cruise ship is a hotel that floats to different cities safely. Problems can be overcome, and the cruise line usually offers deep discounts and focuses on the fun side of it.
If ships are trying to steer clear of infected areas, how easy is it for cruise lines to rejigger itineraries, vessels, crew, etc., to move to another part of the world?
That’s the joy of those things versus a hotel: if you spend $150 million on a hotel, it’s stuck in one place. A boat can be moved. The ships do move around to broad regions, some will be in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Alaska, the West Coast. They can change their ports of call very quickly. In the Caribbean, many are starting to use their own island as one of the stops.
Are passengers now hesitant to book a cruise?
The more news [of the coronavirus] continues, and the more we aren’t sure of the spread as it moves into Europe, it will have an effect. People are skittish, they don’t want to be in a zombie prison, in close, confined conditions on these ships. Even on luxurious ships, with large, grand public spaces, the cabins are very small, maybe 200 to 230 square feet. The staterooms aren’t even as big as a room at a Hampton Inn, because they don’t expect you to spend a lot of time in your cabin.
What are best practices in communicating with travelers during times like these?
For the people who are prebooked, cruise lines should be sending them lots of information and emails, trying to get them to continue the booking. They should be releasing a lot more ads, TV commercials advertising their ships. This is the time of the year in the Northeast that cruise lines appeal to people who want a last-minute getaway for a good price. Add to that the fact that we have had a mild winter, so people aren’t feeling the urge to go to a warm climate as much as in years past, and it’s having an economic impact.
What do the cruise lines need to do to convince people not to cancel and to continue booking? What should they be doing better?
Unfortunately, cruise lines are facing government regulations and restrictions that are counter to everything they have learned about controlling infectious agents. Until the unfolding pandemic appears to be fully under control, the cruise industry will have a hard story to tell. Not to be alarmist, but expect this to start hurting air traffic next. If ships seem unsafe, it isn’t a big leap for people to see planes as even more confining.
To help others and continue this conversation you might explore how cancellation insurance works or doesn’t.
We have a cruise booked to go to Alaska in August. Now we are considering cancelling the trip. What are your thoughts on this.
We got a cruise in May Catalina & Ensenada. We all don’t know what to do. We didn’t get the cancel insurance. Didn’t know all this was going to happen. we got kids too.
Me too I leave May 2nd for the Mexican Riveria. I’m nervous. I have until March 6th to cancel and only receive 50% back. I am bummed out!!!!
We are booked for March 14. To Mexico from LA on Princess. Don’t know what to do. Just got through cancer treatment . This was going to be a celebration. I know ship are being very cautious. Maybe it’s safer then being out in the world. I don’t know
We just returned from a cruise on the Carnival to the Mexican Riviera this past Saturday, March 14. It was the last cruise that ship was to make for the season and is now idling at sea with a quarantined crew of 1400. There was no viruses detected and we had a beautiful cruise. However, I live in an assisted living complex and in order to go back to my apartment I had to agree to go under an imposed quarantine. I can not have any visitors nor can I go out of my room.
Let the Cruise line cancel your reservation, then you’ll get a full refund.
Stay away from cruises.
We too have a cruise booked in August for Alaska, we are so torn on what to do.
We have a cruise booked for June going to Bermuda from NYC (Norwegian) I didn’t get the insurance. We cancelled and lost 25% of the cost. I think this is unfair because a crisis happened that’s not in our control. Safety should come before costs.
We similarly have an Alaska cruise long planned for June 19 with final payment due late in March. At this point we are pretty certain (~95%) we will cancel given the current uncertainty in news/etc on how the virus will or will not progress. We had been holding out thinking something might break more favorable in the next few days news cycles but these hopes are fleeting rapidly. Our concern is not just for the cruise but also for all the travel legs (eg., airports, confined in plane etc, ..) just to get to cruise. No matter the industry’s care and best intentions for safety of customers, Logic says better safe than sorry … who wants to vacation in worry!
WE HAVE A CRUISE SCHEDULED FOR AUGUST 2020 ON THE REGENT 7 SEAS,,,PORTS OF CALL SPAIN PORTUGAL FRANCE AND MOROCCO
ADVISE ON KEEPING THE BOOKING OR CANCELING???
We just cancelled our Mediterranean Cruise that was scheduled for June 20 2020 on the new Celebrity Apex. Just felt it wasn’t worth taking the risk for my wife and I. There is always next year.
We are going in May. Can we cancel and get are money back
We are booked for May cruise in Mediterranean for ten days on NCL from Rome. We wanted to cancel the trip but NCL would not refund us as we did not buy any travel insurance from them. We are in a fix. Shall we wait or just forget the complete booking amount. We have paid the full cost of cruise for self and wife.
Regent has smaller cruise ships and balconies!! I would keep it or wait till July! Hope you have insurance!
I have booked our family on an Alaska cruise for this July. I’m worried about it. Payment is due in March. Should we cancel?
My wife and I are cancelling our 7-day Princess cruise (west coast US & Mexico – April). Still flying to L.A., but for a land vacation now. One sick passenger and the entire ship is on 14-day quarantine. Why take that risk? I’ll be out $750 since Princess doesn’t consider pandemic to be a legitimate reason to cancel. It will convert to a ship’s credit because I got the insurance. Hope Princess is still around to honor it after this is over.
We have the same cruise booked in 2 weeks. Probably will lose the money. Princess won’t reemburse. I got outside insurance. Need another reason to get money back. They won’t accept the Corona virus as a reason
We have a cruise booked March 26 on Crown Princess
Going to the Caribbean ABC islands Should we be
6 of us booked in July for Baltic cruise on Celbrity, also doing Paris, prior. leave from SouthHampton, England. Going to meet tomorrow night and discuss a wait and see approach, still have til April to pay remainder. I would rather lose my down payment cruise, airfare, excursions, hotel than risk our health. Trying to keep an open mind and see in the next 60 days if this epidemic get worse or stabilizes. I feel almost certain situation in China is being downplayed.
We are cancelling our June 3rd 2020 from NY to eastern carribean cruise on carnival lines. Due to virus
Slight factual error here: “The Westerdam…was denied entry at ports in five different countries after a female passenger was misdiagnosed with the virus.”
As I recall, the denials of entry all took place BEFORE the passenger was (mis)diagnosed. In fact, at that point in time there were no reported cases of coronavirus on the Westerdam.
We have lost 4K on a Caribbean cruise on princess. Corporate said if we get sick it’s our choice. We have over 35 cruises on princess. You would think loyalty would be considered.they are the lowest of the low. They let the diamond princess into the us so they could infect the west coast.
Joe, The Diamond Princess is still in Japan, it never left; it never went to the US “to infect the west coast”. There is sooo much false information about COVID-19!
35 cruises with them and they didn’t give you any consideration?? WHAT??
Did you persist at all?
We are going in May. Can we cancel and get are money back
“Experts” say the virus might go dormant in the summer like the flu. I’d wait and hope if I had a summer booking.
We have a cruise out of Miami to Bahamas in mid-June. Thank God I got insurance right when I booked last year. Unfortunately anyone trying to get insurance after Jan. 22nd, they will not cover you because the virus was a “foreseeable” event. My co-worker has a Europe trip planned with fly into Italy, she tried getting insurance for trip and when I was helping her that the new notice on the AAA website/coverage section.
Anyhow as for us, we will have 2 teens and 2 small kids, so playing it by ear and waiting it out.
We have a 7 day cruise on Royal Caribbean in April to the eastern Caribbean and we are really concerned about whether we should cancel or not? We bought the insurance Would we be able to get a refund and how much?
We were hoping to go to the Caribbean.. again.. but we have a 6 yr old with down syndrome, a heart defect and weakened immune system. Even though it’s just the Caribbean, we can’t know for sure where everyone else has been and our doctor advised us to skip this year.. this was going to be my seventh cruise and our kids fourth cruise but we just can’t take that chance!
Do you think cruise lines will offer deeper discounts for 2021 cruises because of this virus and lost travel? We are planning a September 2021 Rhine River cruise and are scheduled to book it soon. Should I wait for a better deal?
We are booked in april 2020 on disney dream cruise out of fl to bahamas.. Two kids and Two adults. Would you take the chance?
We are also going to bahamas in early april with royal carribean. I have been doing lots of research as i have already paid and was getting a little worried. To my understanding, there has only been 1 cruise ship that had positive outbreaks and that ship was a closed loop cruise in asia. There have been “scares” on a couple other ships but only because a person or two would have flu-like symptoms. Nobody outside of asia has been diagnosed or come in contact with the virus on a cruise ship. Me and my family are still going to Bahamas in April. And i strongly suggest you do too. (Bring lysol wipes and purell for plane ride)
Me too!!! Same cruise
Flipping out- I want to go!
2 kiddies! Just waiting- ????
Don’t know what to do
We are on that cruise, also! Who do we ask to make sure Disney tests each passenger before they board? And then I guess re-test each passenger who departs and reboards at any stop along the way? I sure don’t want to be out of work for 4 weeks instead of just the one planned if we get quarantined.
Disney says they will be checking passports and will not allow passengers onboard who have traveled to infected countries- but?? They are also stepping up their cleaning g systems training etc Not sure what all of this means We are in wait and see mode
We are doing a Disney cruise end of March from Florida. We don’t plan to cancel.
Christa – we are, too! We leave March 28th from Miami on Disney Cruise! We aren’t going to cancel.
Cruising to Aruba, Bonnaire in mid June on Carnival Planning to drive to the port of Miami to minimize the risk for the virus. But for now, still planning to roll the dice and go.
Unless our specific ship, or the areas it is visiting, have an outbreak of COVID-19, we are going as planned. Be cautious, be aware, but please don’t let paranoia take over.
My cruise is out of Port Canaveral going to the Bahamas 9 days from now. My friends and I are packing our sunscreen. This is my last Spring Break of my college life, and I’ve been looking forward to this cruise every day for two months. The only thing that would stop me is if COVID-19 became confirmed in the FL areas or the Bahamas.
We leave Saturday from Galveston going to Florida and the Bahamas. No COVID-19 in These places so we feel ok about going. Got my Lysol packed and ready to cruise. I think so much of this is being overdone.
cancel..why you would want to take a chance ..is beyond me…its not just about ports in Asia..i have been on many cruises and people come from all over the world…it takes one passenger.money is not everything…and if you lose some money it is better then risking losing your health or even your life
My family and I leave March 7th from Miami. I have no intention of cancelling. In my opinion people are freaking out without being informed. 87 percent of people that test positive don’t even show symptoms or get sick. The ones with compromised immune systems, cancer, lots of other health problems are the ones it hits hardest. I plan on having a great time, and enjoying snorkeling in Aruba!
I’m getting a free trip to NYC in May and I’m considering cancelling for the safety of my children.
Dont take the risk, if you are bummed bec you already paid, think of the consequences. Its better to be safe than sorry. Only those who have little concern for their well being will go. You dont know how hard it is to be stuck in a place where youre 100x more vulnerable. I should know because I was in Japan cruise.
We are leaving for the Caribbean on Monday, for 12 days, on the Reflection. Will be so nice without too many people LOL will have the ship to ourselves can’t wait
Whether to go or not is always going to be an “it depends” scenario. You must weigh out the risk you are comfortable with. My family and I have 2 cruises planned this year (Mexico and San Juan) and intend to go on both. However, I would probably cancel a cruise in Asia right now. We are concerned about our health and well-being on a daily basis, but also recognize that there are a million things that could harm us every day of our lives. Every day we leave our houses contains an element of risk. How ironic would it be to cancel your cruise, only to get exposed to the virus anyway in your hometown, which I believe is probably what will happen. Cruise on, but be thoughtful.
My husband and I are taking my family on a Disney Cruise for 4 days mid April to the Bahamas I’m told my insurance does not cover the Corona situation
But I don’t want to cancel Am I crazy? We will have my 2 little granddaughters with us
My best friend and I were planning to go on a carnival cruise from Miami to the Bahamas in May 5 day cruise for my 21st birthday we have not booked our cruise not even a deposit and the only thing we booked is our flight to Miami I’m considering just going to Miami and skip the cruise undecided. Is it safe to go on a cruise to the Bahamas during May?
A few years ago we were on a cruise immediately after that ship experienced a virus outbreak. About 20 people got sick. The crew went into this hightened sanitizing protocol. After each crew member finished their regular work shift they reported to their protocol station and worked for four more hours basically cleaning every surface of the ship over and over and over again. Every time I stood up from a chair, someone literally swooped in with a spray bottle to wipe the entire chair (back, side, legs, etc.). If I was at a table, they wiped the table too. Not just in the food venues. This was at the pool, the theaters, the bars, everywhere. You couldn’t walk up or down the stairs until you were squirted with hand sanitizer. Every time you went from one area of the ship to another there was someone there to squirt more sanitizer into your hand. The buffet was no longer self-serve. At every station there were staff members waiting to serve you. You just pointed to what you wanted and they made your plate. It’s hard to imagine a germ of any kind could survive that sort of effort. During this Coronavirus thing I’m staying away from malls, theaters, just about any place that has lots of people. But knowing how they handle this sort of thing on ships, I wouldn’t hesitate taking a cruise.
This, exactly! Yes, being on a cruise increases the chances of a highly contagious illness being spread among the passengers, but the cruise industry has been dealing with these rare occasions better and better over the years. I’d rather spend a week on a cruise ship than an hour on an MBTA train or trolley!
Thank you for that detailed post, that makes me feel much better. We have a cruise booked for May 2nd of this year and although I am not as concerned about the virus, I am concerned the ports will not accept the ships. I booked this cruise specifically for the ports (Aruba, Bonnaire, and Curacao). I am really hoping they do not divert us to some other port that I dont want to go go. lol
buenas compramos un viaje para el 4 de mayo justo va a salir de barcelona va hacia italia y francia, el virus esta mas fuerte en esos paises y ademas todo cerrado, no compramos el seguro pero esto ya es una causa no imputable a nosotros que quisieramos hacerlo.
En la reserva va una sra de 80 años, como nos garantiza que no nos contaminaremos con el virus
HOW YOU GUARANTEE ME THAT IN THE BOAT THAT LEAVES FROM BARCELONA TO ITALY AND FRANCE WHICH ARE THE MOST CONTAGED COUNTRIES ARE NOT PROCESSED, DO NOT PUT US INTO FORTY AND ALSO ONE WILL MAKE A TRIP TO NOT BE ABLE TO SEE ANYTHING AS IT IS CLOSED. I DON’T WANT AN ANSWER THAT THEY WILL TAKE THE TEMPERATURE AND CLEAN EVERYTHING. IT IS GUARANTEED THAT I DIDN’T HAVE ME IN THE BOAT AND THAT IT WILL PASS WITH THE PORTS THAT WE ARE GOING TO BE CLOSED
I am 80 years old and I need a guarantee since this is a threat
All you have to do is watch the news. Not the news from the White House, news from the CDC. Today the CDC said they urge people over 60 with medical conditions not to fly. Age 70 would have a higher chance, age 80 even more of a chance to catch this virus. The President flew on Air Force One today and was in contact with someone that self-quarantined an hour after getting off the plane. You could be in excellent health at age 80, but if you are within 6 feet of someone that has tested positive, you could be infected. Please do not take this cruise. My father is 91 and his 2 young great grand kids, his granddaughter, a nanny and his grandson-in-law are taking a cruise in April. I am so concerned that they will bring this virus home and infect my father. I am seriously researching this each day and watch news programs each day. This virus is spreading like wildfire. Please don’t take this cruise
canceling cruise – disney
we purchased insurance and they say only 75% would be refunded. Is there any recourse to get a full amount now that the corona virus is spreading and impacting cruise travelers?
is there a third party agency or law firm that is stepping in to assist travelers in getting recourse against these giant corporations?
Corona virus is not the fault of a passenger that booked a fare on a cruise ship. It has now been shown being on a ship can be unsafe and life threatening if the virus somehow makes it’s way onboard. It is in the best long term interest of the cruise lines to allow people to cancel and totally refund the money when we are facing a world wide health crisis. Any cruise line refusing to do this will pay the price long term,. I personally would never again sail with a line that refused to give full refunds because of a global health crisis.
This is a a disastrous time for the cruise industry however they can look at it as an opportunity to treat people well and fairly. People will always remember the company that refused refunds…
I am booked on a cruise round Spain and Netherlands but they won’t let me cancel and say either I have to rebook this year or lose 6 grand so am not happy
I am currently booked on an American Queen Steamboat cruise departing from Washington state. With the CDC warnings I think anyone who would go on it has their eyes closed. I am cancelling and so far the cruise line says I will lose $4000.
Better than getting coronavirus.
People who are cavalier about traveling on a ship during an epidemic might want to get some more information from reliable sources.
Bill, I agree with your sentiments because NCL only refunded us 75% since we didn’t have the insurance. I’m hoping that changes after the CDC provided some updates about shutting down the cruise lines for awhile. However, I have made up my mind that I will not take my family on NCL ever again. That’s horrible they they won’t refund the full amount due to a global crisis which is not from our fault.
Im booked for a cruise on april 27 to Catalina island and ensanada mexico. Is it safe or should i cancel
We were scheduled to leave out of Tampa March 14th. We cancelled yesterday. Not so much in fear of the virus, but just don’t want to be quarantined out in the ocean somewhere for weeks or turned away from our ports of call. This was our 25th wedding anniversary celebration and it’s disappointing but not the end of the world. We did have insurance and will probably take a 25% hit but will be worth it. We would have been so paranoid about cleanliness and people sneezing and coughing.
But if u are not going to those hard hit areas you should be better off right?!
All I can say is I got off of a cruise in Feb on a Norwegian cruise and the line had members use gloves and then they removed gloves and then I got sick which lasted for a month. Then my sister in law got sick. I know it cost more than then the cruise for the doctor and the meds and how bad I felt stay away.
If you go on the cruise are the excursions going to be open? Or do u even disembark? Hawaii cruise April 14
Just came back from Princess Cruise early March. Have to say our cruise was wonderful, amazing food, crew, entertainment and ports. Yes it was a Princess cruise. If you cruise, these are my thoughts.
What was blatantly obvious to me in current times, is the sanitary questionably of sharing serving utensils at the buffet. Princess provided:
1. An enforced squirt of Purel at entrance (good) but not likely not enough…
2. Then 3000 people used the same utensil to get bacon in the morning, then moved on to 8-12 other utensils to fill their plate each meal. Then toast, buns fruit etc we would eat with our fingers. Repeat for lunch then maybe dinner.
Me? I used a napkin to pick up the server tools. I saw one person with gloves. My thoughts are that everyone should be provide with disposable gloves to serve themselves at the buffet, or have servers serving the food.
A secondary precaution may be to avoid full elevators. They were sometimes crammed full.
Remember- cruising is great! Lets hope this industry does what it takes to secure passenger safety so this somewhat affordable luxury can be enjoyed by many!
Wife and I are on a cruise may 2nd fo Amsterdam, don’t know if those ports will even be open,really dont know what will happen. Just hope April weather will push virus away
We was to go on the Carnival breeze June 13,2020 They let us reschedule for the following year and then Southwest cancel my airflight and gave me a voucher for the amount of money for a year everybody was wonderful about doing it and didn’t even question and we got a $600 credit on the boat