At times when it’s too overwhelming for the neighborhood, Timson takes a minute to dream of sipping cocktails on a floating cruise ship in a heavenly destination.
“I’m a cruise fan,” said Timson, who has worked as a nurse for decades. “I have done several cruises a year and I have booked one this year in August and I still hope it will continue. “
Timson, a widow who loves the sociability of cruising, said she was looking forward to getting back on deck, even though cruise ships were labeled as Covid-19 “floating petri dishes”.
Dozens of deaths have been linked to cruise ships, passengers and crew dying at sea and after disembarking. More than 6,300 passengers are still on eight ships unable to dock as governments block disembarkation, fearing it will spread the disease.
Travel industry experts are concerned that cruises will never recover from the coronavirus and that the actions of cruise lines may have collapsed. Governments around the world have banned new cruises setting sail for months, and some cruises have been suspended until at least November 2020.
But analysts may underestimate the desire of people like Timson to come back on board anyway. Out of dozens of Facebook groups dedicated to cruise ships, the number of people who deplore the fact that they cannot continue to sail far exceeds those worried about the pandemic.
Ruth Bowe, 29, a primary school teacher in Leicester who has done 13 cruises, is looking forward to returning.
“Cruising is a fantastic way to see the world at a reasonable price. The ships are clean and they always ask you to sanitize yourself around the ship, “said Bowe, when asked why she was so eager to leave.
“I started sailing with my disabled mother who has multiple sclerosis. She’s in a wheelchair, so for her, cruising is the way she can see the world. She can’t really fly, so the cruises from Southampton were our family vacation each year.
“Now my fiancé and I sail regularly. You meet adorable people of all ages from all over the world. It’s a great social experience. We have made friends with other passengers we still meet today. There are so many things to do on board ships and it would be a shame if the industry were to end. Millions of people would lose their jobs around the world and for some people, working on ships is a much better life. “
While Timson and Bowe are anxious to get back in the water, some cruise enthusiasts have pledged to give plenty of space to the buffets at will.
Mike Checkley-James, 61, a retired Gloucestershire retirement manager, said he had booked eight cruises by September 2021, but hopes they will all be canceled. “After 36 cruises over 23 years old, my cruising days are over,” he said. “The magic for me is unfortunately dead with this pandemic. “
All cruise lines are experiencing financial difficulties. Royal Caribbean obtained a loan of 2.2 billion dollars (1.7 billion pounds sterling) against its ships. Norwegian Cruise Line has borrowed a $ 1.55 billion line of credit. Shares of the London-listed Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise ship operator and owner of the Diamond Princess, collapsed 80% between February and the peak of market panic in mid-March.
However, Carnival shares gained 60% this week after the company secured $ 6.25 billion in bailout funding, primarily guaranteed for $ 28 billion of its ships, and the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund revealed that she had built an 8.2% stake in the company.
“People were really encouraged by the purchase by the Saudis,” said Ross Klein, professor at the Maritime Studies Research Unit at Memorial University of Newfoundland. “People say he got a lot and he’s going to make a fortune. It may be, but I don’t see the cruise bouncing quickly. “
Klein said cruise lines will have to work hard to regain consumer confidence. “There will be good deals for consumers to convince them to come on a cruise,” he said. “But it’s going to be difficult to convince people that cruise ships are safe. It will take a long time before cruise ships have the confidence of the Australian government and consumers. “
Australian authorities this week launched a criminal investigation into how passengers of the Ruby Princess were allowed to disembark in Sydney despite certain flu-like symptoms. More than 600 people on the ship have subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus and 11 have died since – more than a fifth of deaths in Australia to date. The New South Wales police commissioner accused Carnival of potentially violating biosafety laws and allowing the virus to arrive in Australia.
A Carnival spokesperson said, “In addition to participating voluntarily in the investigation, Carnival Australia will vigorously respond to all allegations that require full disclosure and the basis for them. “
The industry has managed to recover from a series of other disasters, including the capsizing of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Tuscany in 2012, which killed 33 people and caused numerous outbreaks of norovirus, rotavirus and Legionnaires’ disease.
But Klein described the coronavirus pandemic as an “out of scale challenge”.
He said: “By offering huge discounts, they will be able to convince people who have already done several cruises to come back. But the industry is ready to grow, with more and more ships getting bigger and to fill them, they will need new customers. It will be extremely difficult to convince people who have never done a cruise before to take one now, no matter what amount you offer them. “
Robert Cole, a senior leisure travel analyst with the research firm Phocuswright, said the biggest challenge for the industry will be being able to maintain physical distance on board.
“Cruise ships, by definition, are a mass of narrow people in a small space and there is not much you can do structurally to change that,” said Cole. “Even when the immediate crisis is over, it will probably take 18 months for a coronavirus vaccine to be developed and until then travel will be very limited and some form of social distancing will remain in place.
“On cruise ships, there are crowds of people everywhere. There are queues [queues] for the buffet, for shows and to get on and off at each port. “
Demographic data is also not helpful. A third of cruise lines are 60 years of age or older, the age group most at risk of serious illness and death from the virus.
“No business wants their customers to look at it and say, ‘Hmm, that sounds a bit risky,'” said Cole. “Maybe if you’re a zipline company, but not cruises. “