The Cruise Industry and COVID

  • Post category:Opinion

Bruising for a Cruising: How Cruise Lines Are Affected by the Coronavirus, Part 1

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With much of the world still cooped up over the COVID pandemic, people nonetheless want to get back to enjoying life. The lockdowns were a disaster for the economy. Adding in the general psychological harm along with nursing-home-related deaths, shelter-in-place orders may end up costing more lives than they saved.

As the government mulls the fourth round of stimulus for the economy, a $4,000 per person tax credit for vacations, travel, and entertainment appears to be an area of some agreement in Washington. This tax credit is designed to help energize the hardest-hit sector in our economy, namely the tourism sector.

With hotels, local restaurants, and various gathering places hurting, many Americans may tend to focus tourism worries in their backyard. This is a serious concern shared by many, and it is not without merit. One of the key areas omitted in the discussion is the large-scale event. While mom and pop shops often keep the community running, large events bring in billions to state economies each year. They keep the local shops open, the hotels booked, and the transportation industry moving.

Topics Under Discussion

This NRN series will examine, however, the hardest hit segment of the travel sector, i.e., the cruise industry, and how the COVID crisis impacted it. With major media outlets publishing volumes of misinformation about cruise lines, potential vacationers have become afraid of the industry and jaded by rumors that it is not an important part of the US economy.

This series will discuss the following issues:

  • the relationship between the commercial cruise industry and COVID
  • myths surrounding the cruise industry
  • cruising and the community
  • why cruising is an excellent family vacation (or romantic getaway)
  • how you can cruise safely
  • using your cruise credit effectively
  • why you should book through a travel agent and get cruise insurance

Continuous Improvement in the Industry

As we adjust to the changes that the coronavirus has brought to the global community, cruise lines are leading the charge in updating their practices to prevent the spread of infection. Allowing the industry to suffer because of bad information in the early days of the outbreak is akin to returning to the advice of “ignore it and it will go away.” Cruise lines are also a key component of some US coastal communities, and their continued viability must be ensured.

One of the primary criticisms of the cruise industry is that ships are floating Petri dishes. This reputation emerged during the early days of cruising before thorough health and safety standards became the norm in the industry. With the outbreak of COVID, cruise ships have upgraded their safety requirements as they set the stage to start cruising again at the end of the summer (September 15 is the current rumored launch date).

Cruise ships have actually been improving health and safety designs for the last 20 years. Gone are the days where cruises posed unsanitary conditions for the “lower-class” customers and luxury accommodations for the so-called upper crust. For example, onboard crews work constantly to clean the ships.

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If you have been on a cruise ship in the last 15 years, odds are that your room was cleaned twice a day, hand-sanitization stations were readily available throughout the vessel, towels were replaced daily (with some moderation due to environmental concerns), and the food service deserved 4-5 stars for purity. This led to a situation where the “cruise cold” was becoming a thing of the past.

No Need to Abandon Ship

Even during the COVID outbreak, a very limited number of infections apparently occurred on cruise ships. With the outliers Diamond Princess and Ruby Princess taken out of the equation, 621 people were reportedly infected by COVID Virus on cruise whips.

Even with the outliers included, which consists of two-thirds of the infected passengers, only 1,945 people were diagnosed with the coronavirus. To put that in perspective, it is estimated that 8.3 million passengers cruised in the first four months of 2020. This suggests that with outliers, the infection rate was 0.00023%.

Without outliers, the rate drops to 0.0000073%, which is statistically irrelevant. Absent the news media hype about the Diamond Princess, most Americans might never have heard of COVID on cruise ships. Based on US Census Bureau population estimates, the overall US infection rate is just 0.067%. The numbers do not lie; cruise lines did their part to fight the pandemic in the early stages.

In the midst of the debate about the massive stimulus bill in the halls of Congress, we need to take a strong look at the most affected industries. Cruising is a vital part of the economy. We cannot allow this industry to fail because of pandemic-related negativity. To save an industry that provides jobs for thousands of workers and keeps even more employed through tangential businesses, we need to make a concerted effort to ensure that the cruise industry receives protection in the new legislation.

Christopher W Smithmyer
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