Undoubtedly 2020 has been the most devastating year for the travel industry so far in this millennium, for the cruise industry. Due to the prevailing worldwide coronavirus pandemic, the majority of the cruise lines had been shut down for almost an entire year and have lost billions of dollars of revenue. Adding to that, swiftly changing protocols, poor exposure, and ongoing unpredictability around the world continues to influence cruise lines and their coming back to operation.
How will cruise lines eventually recommence sailing, and which cruise lines will regain the best the post pandemic season?
How Cruise Lines Survived 2020
Since the initial arrest of sailing in mid-March 2020, cruise lines have followed many steps to secure the sustainability of the business. One of the earliest actions was to offer booked passengers future cruise credits and bonus offers to defer refunds, which secured already paid fares as capital for the cruise lines.
As the pandemic continued, both onshore and ship-based staff were laid off, and employees who were lucky to keep their jobs had to take salary cuts in order for the company to reduce their salary costs. Parallel to that, cruise lines began to sell their long term investments including stock, bonds, and secured notes to raise capital to make certain the continuation of business even as no cruises were allowed to leave their respective ports, docks.
Because ships weren’t being operated actively in the water, many fleets have been put into different layup stages. This reduces people on the ship hence lowers operating costs by a large amount per fleet. While delays can occur because of this when resuming operations, it is a good action to further preserve funds until sailing can restart.
As this unfortunate pandemic continued to leave unused vessels and further postponement of calls off cruises, larger cruise lines began rearranging their vessels. Aged and less updated ships have now been sold or discarded, and while those fleet reorganizing may already have been scheduled long before the pandemic, the discontinuation in operations sped up the agenda for getting rid of ships. Similarly, some cruise lines have postponed debt on newly built ships, or rescheduled new builds to delay the manufacturing and hold off on further expenses.
As a final safety net some cruise lines have successfully secured loans and credit lines from investors and financial institutes, leveraging the company in order to keep minimal operations going until ships can sail again.
How Cruise Lines can Recover
Despite all the actions cruise line companies have taken to stay unaffected as much as they can through this crisis, recovering from the lengthened shutdown will be a huge challenge. Many elements will play a part in the industry’s reboot and regain, and operating two types of cruise lines will be better able to grip the evolving situation
Larger, more diversified cruise lines will be able to resume business wherever in the world restrictions may be softened, allowing the company to begin in some parts and pulling in revenue even if other areas remain locked down. Most probably larger cruise lines might be the first to restart operations, but they will also be required to constantly refine health and safety guidelines for passengers and crew members as new protocols are equipped to combat coronavirus transmission.
The first ships to set sail again will be under heavy inspection to ensure not only are they moving along safely, but also that there are no further breakouts or health dangers aboard.
Smaller regional cruise line services may also be able to rebound much quicker when their area of operations allows sailings to continue. Because these smaller lines generally hire more local people and also serve local communities compared to various international cruisers who board large cruise ships. Hence their operations could be easier to restart and get to a sustainable capacity for business to earn revenue.
However this could depend on their preferred ports of call welcoming cruise travelers again, and different ports in different regions may have different health and safety procedures to follow, which can make coordinating itineraries harder and more challenging.
Big or small, all cruise lines will have to remain cautious during the initial periods as cruises resume. Transparency about health and safety protocols will be mandatory to reassure passengers as well as to stimulate new cruise bookings.
Cruise lines will be required to be meticulous about their compliance to safety measures and health protocols, ensuring all passengers and crew members are in adherence with confirmed procedures and recommendations.
Adding to that, cruise lines will need to pay attention to providing a satisfactory and enjoyable experience for passengers onboard. While some activities and facilities onboard could change and different ship activities are inevitable, even devoted cruise fans may be disheartened by way too many restrictions or narrow down options on board. But there is hope that this is a balance that cruise lines will be able to redefine once they receive feedback from passengers as they start sailing again.
In order to lure passengers back onboard once sailings resume around the world, all cruise lines will need to offer attractive deals and packages that can convince more travelers to set sail. Flexible cancellation plans are also mandatory so people will feel their vacation investment is secured in case of a sudden outbreak, extended shutdowns, or any symptoms of illness.
Ultimately, every operating cruise line will require to set in motion whatever policies and protocols it feels are suited the most for its passengers and crew members, while complying with the requirements and protocols of each port of call they visit. Large, well-established cruise lines are likely to rebound quickly with phased-in operations when tensions relieve in different areas. Similarly they will also recover quickly thanks to the better financial solidarity of their diversified corporation and the loyalty of its most devoted fans.
Smaller, localized cruise lines may also be able to reinstate smoothly and quickly, recovering well once they are allowed and able to set sail in their relevant regions.
However regardless of size, it will be tricky for cruise lines to set sail again specially when even a small outbreak could cause devastating results, not just for the affected cruise line, but for the entire cruise industry.
Undoubtedly cruise lines will have to be very cautious with initial sailings, and they will continuously work closely with port authorities and health and other relevant departments to make sure the safest possible operation for passengers, crew members, onshore crew, and vendors in ports of call.
While cruise lines will still struggle with changing operational requirements in early 2021, as the year progresses and sailings are closely monitored and completed successfully, more and more cruise line services will be able to restore their operations in safe, efficient ways, and cruise fans will once again have various travel options to choose from for their next oceangoing getaway.