It’s hardly any secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the cruise industry. Cruising contributed $55 billion to the U.S. economy in 2019 up 5.3% from 2018, according to Cruise Lines International Association.
By 2020, however that growth was abruptly stalled by the suspension of cruising in U.S. waters. For cruise lovers everywhere it has been a heartbreaking turn of events. The good news is that there’s now a small glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Cruise lines are adding new safety protocols on their ships and many companies are planning to resume operations on some level throughout the spring and summer. Royal Caribbean in particular has revealed that it will start offering cruises outside of the United States in the coming months.
To delve into this important news further, Family Travel Association recently conducted a Q&A with Royal Caribbean’s Laurie Bohn-Isaure, the company’s director of national accounts. Laurie shared with us what’s on the horizon for Royal Caribbean and cruise lovers everywhere.
FTA: The cruise industry was among the hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis, can you talk a little about where things stand now and what you see on the horizon moving forward for the cruise industry? When might cruises resume and what will it take to make that happen?
LBI: We are delighted to share that we are planning our Healthy Return To Service with the recent announcement of our sailings from the Bahamas, Bermuda, and Cyprus.
Our cruises in the Caribbean include a visit to our private island destination, Perfect Day at CoCo Cay – rated #1 in guest satisfaction of all ports we visit anywhere in the world. As of June, we will begin to sail with North American guests to the beautiful Caribbean and in July, the Greek Islands and we can’t wait!
We’ve been planning for our return for some time with our Healthy Sail Panel of experts led by Governor Mike Leavitt and Dr. Scott Gottlieb. We’ve used science to guide us as we prepare to welcome back Royal Caribbean guests.
The safety and wellbeing of our guests, crew, and the communities we visit are our top priority. At this time, we will require our crew and guests 18 years of age and above to be fully vaccinated. Our younger guests will be required to have a negative RT-PCR test.
Our protocols will continue to be finalized as draw closer to departure dates. As we welcome guests back to cruising, we are committed to delivering the fabulous cruise vacation they know and love. We are striving to offer and an even bigger bolder guest experience in a way that only Royal Caribbean can do … it’s so exciting!!!
FTA: What will the cruise experience be like for travelers when the industry is back up and running? Will the experience be changed in any noticeable ways?
LBI: As we return to sea, your client’s health and safety remains our top priority. While we will be determining the final details of our cruise experience closer to our sailing dates, we have partnered with expert medical and scientific minds to guide us in developing protocols to protect your clients and the ones they love.
As mentioned, at this time, we require vaccinations for our crew and travelers 18 years of age and above. Other protocols are being finalized. That said, E mustering, our Guest Safety Briefing will be forever changed. Muster drills are an important part of ensuring guest safety throughout the cruise vacation. This process has been reimagined, introducing an entirely new approach called Guest Safety Briefing.
This patented system streamlines the traditional muster process, making the key elements of the safety drill available via a mobile device or stateroom TV— including reviewing what to expect, where to go in case of an emergency, and how to properly use a life jacket.
After reviewing safety information on their own, guests will complete the drill by visiting the assigned assembly station on the ship, where a crew member will verify that all steps have been completed and answer any questions, eliminating the need for a group drill. What’s awesome is our guests can complete this at their leisure during a designated window of time on embarkation day – a welcome improvement to our guest experience!
FTA: Will there be as many destination itinerary options for cruisers in 2021 and beyond?
LBI: We are starting up slowly with ports outside of the United States – but that can change at any time as we continue to look to the CDC for guidance on how to safely return to cruising from our U.S. ports.
When the time is right, we’ll be back in full operation. That said, we are busy planning our next steps. Stay tuned for more announcements as they become available!
FTA: Specifically, with regard to Royal Caribbean, how did you pivot or work to get through the past year and all of the challenges it presented?
LBI: We understood that while we were not sailing, we had a big job in front of us … and that we had to reinvent ourselves to remain relevant in this new world we were living in. So, we looked at what we could do and how we could make a positive impact including reservations automation enhancements, unwavering support of our valuable Travel Advisors and continued communication to create confidence for our Travel Partners and guests.
Supporting our Travel Advisor community is key, and our stellar sales team has stayed super connected throughout this challenging time, keeping everyone informed and up to date on all policies and plans of our return to service.
This combined with our consistent communication flow from our CEO – Richard Fain with his video updates to Vicki Freed and her weekly Coffee Talks (Wednesdays at 12 noon EST – be sure and tune in) where information and updates on all things Royal Caribbean are shared, have been essential to our success as we prepare for our return to service.
FTA: The coronavirus crisis forced travel industry leaders worldwide to rethink how things were being done and in many cases change or refocus business models to be more sustainable and cognizant of both environmental issues and the communities that they are bringing tourists to visit. What are your thoughts on the path forward both for Royal Caribbean and for the cruise industry as a whole in a post-pandemic world?
LBI: We are continually thinking of how we can be good corporate citizens and have made commitments for continues improvement to our ships, operations and the communities we visit.
We enjoy working with valuable partners including the WWF. COVID did not change that thinking. Oceans are 71% of the planet and 100% critical to our business. Conserving their health is paramount. Our commitment to sustainability is highlighted on our site that outlines our various initiatives including our Save the Waves Main Principles:
- Reduce, Reuse & Recycle
- Practice Pollution Prevention
- Go Above and Beyond Compliance (ABC)
- Continuous Improvement
These are just a few of the many ways we are looking to make an impact. Going above and beyond compliance is criticle for the success of our business and our planet. At Royal Caribbean, we are leading the way in change in the cruise industy and holding our selves to a higher standard. For more informatin regarding our sustainability journey please visit our website.
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