Royal Caribbean, which burns about $ 375 million in cash per month, is trying to bring its ships back to sea as early as August 1, but CEO Richard Fain has suggested it is a moving target.
“We are not saying we are confident to start on August 1st. We will not return until we are sure that we have done everything we can to protect the safety of our guests and our crew, “said Fain. on CNBC’s Power Lunch on Thursday.
The carnival also hopes to restart some crossings on August 1.
Fain said Royal Caribbean continues to work with authorities and health officials to detail a crisis manual to minimize the risk of another cruise ship running aground.
Changes to the study include doctors’ notes for passengers over the age of 70 to ensure they are in good health, as well as the removal of all-you-can-eat buffets, which have become a staple of almost all cruises.
“Expect not to see buffet food, empty lounge seats, distance between lounge chairs, and dramatically reduced spa services,” said Monty Mathisen, editor of the trade publication Cruise Industry News, at CNBC.
Summer is generally the peak season for the cruise industry, which is currently in survival mode after canceled trips, high-level quarantines and criticism of its handling of the Covid-19 outbreaks earlier this year.
With billions of dollars lost and cruise line inventories down 60% on average this year, CEOs of major cruise lines are determined to resume shipping while rethinking the experience for health and safety a higher priority.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez | Getty Images
Before a U.S. ship accepts passengers, approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be required. The CDC issued a navigation ban until July 24. Discussions are currently underway between the CDC, the Cruise Lines International Association trade group, cruise executives and ports.
When the industry suspended shipping operations in mid-March, many ports denied entry to cruise lines, who argued that they could carry sick passengers ashore in some cases.
However, ports – many of which are in Florida – have not allowed cruise ships to disembark due to fears that local hospitals will be overcrowded.
Fain said that was one of the key questions his team was trying to answer. “How can we make sure that we have a protocol established in collaboration with the ports so that we are all ready and when and if such a thing [infected passenger] are we ready to go? It is a high priority of the work we have done and we will do. We need to have an established process in place. “
As the industry seeks to detail a new plan, thousands of crew members remain stranded at sea due to ports denying access and the CDC imposing evacuation via charter planes, which is costly for shipping companies. cruise.
Fain said, “We have already managed to get a high percentage at home. We have taken the extra step of coordination to get large numbers of crew members from across the fleet to assemble them on individual vessels, and then we use those vessels to transport them home. Frankly, it’s a difficult thing to do. It’s very complicated. It’s also very expensive. “
In addition to entering into an agreement with ports, sources say the cruise industry is considering how to isolate and medically evacuate an infected passenger to land more effectively, while having the option of isolating and provide access to more medical personnel on board for treatment. .
“The industry will need to develop a comprehensive door-to-door medical plan for guests and crew. Expect to see isolation areas on board, “said Mathisen.
The three largest cruise lines – Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line – also face the difficult task of rethinking their ships to get the green light from the CDC, while preserving the experience that many loyal cruise lines have loved, including Broadway – stylish shows, casino nights and water parks.
Fain expects to have fewer passengers on board his ships to allow for social distancing. “I guess when we start we will limit the number of people who can get on a ship when my neighborhood restaurants start to open. “
Before Covid-19, the cruise industry liked to operate at 90% to 100% capacity, carrying thousands of passengers and crew on large, expansive vessels.
Royal Caribbean has the largest of them with its 228,081 tonnes Symphony of the Seas, with 22 restaurants, 42 bars and a 92-foot slide. It can accommodate up to 6,680 passengers. The vessel hit the market in 2018 and was a great success and experienced strong demand from customers. However, industry experts are now wondering if these large ships will be in high demand in a Covid-19 world.
Fain sees the size of the company’s vessels as an advantage. “They’re very tall, but in fact it makes social distance easier because we can spread people out. There is more space per person, which makes things easier. “