Even with zero infections onboard, cruise lines are falling foul of strict protocols. They simply can't win.
Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line on Wednesday canceled sailings amid rising fears of Omicron-related coronavirus infections that have dampened the nascent recovery of the pandemic-ravaged cruise industry.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd called off its Spectrum of the Seas cruise for Jan. 6 after nine guests on its Jan. 2 trip were identified as close contacts to a local Hong Kong Covid-19 case.
The contacts have tested negative but the cruise ship will return to Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Hong Kong on Jan. 5 to test all guests and crew who must take a second test on Jan. 8, the company said.
A similar decision to cancel trips by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd was made against the backdrop of the U.S. reporting the highest daily tally of any country for new coronavirus infections on Monday.
“Due to ongoing travel restrictions, we’ve had to modify a few sailings and unfortunately have had to cancel,” the 17-ship strong cruise operator said, with the embarkation dates for a few canceled sailings as far out as late April.
The cruise line, which requires everyone on board to be vaccinated, has also had to cut short a 12-day round trip from Miami on its Norwegian Pearl ship, citing “Covid related circumstances.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had last week advised people to avoid cruise travel after launching investigations into onboard cases on more than 90 ships. The health agency starts a scrutiny if at least 0.1 percent of the guests test positive.
Norwegian Cruise said guests, who were supposed to embark on the canceled sailings on the eight ships, will receive full refunds and bonus credits for future bookings.
The Omicron-led travel uncertainty is also causing guests on other sailings to cancel their bookings as a few ships have also had to skip ports due to onboard infections.
“We booked the cruise last March and assumed that things would be getting back to normal… by mid-December, I was mentally prepared for a change of plans,” said Holly Bromley, a consulting arborist, who canceled her booking on Norwegian Epic.
Meanwhile, bigger rival Carnival Corp said it has not canceled any upcoming voyages, but its shares fell on Wednesday to close down 2.6 percent. Royal Caribbean lost 2.1 percent and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings 3.6 percent.
The Lasting Impact of a Year With No Cruises
The world’s three largest cruise lines are desperate to stop their $60 billion financial bleed. Destinations have experienced life without megaships for more than year. Is this the end of mass cruising as we knew it or can cruise lines find a place in a more balanced and diversified tourism economy?
(Reporting by Praveen Paramasivam in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Ananya Mariam Rajesh; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Arun Koyyur)
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Photo credit: Norwegian Cruise Line has cut short a 12-day round trip from Miami on its Norwegian Pearl ship. Scarhead101 / Flickr