An increasing number of major cruise lines dependent on passengers from the United States have begun cancelling their entire 2020 program, reflecting growing pessimism about the coronavirus situation in the United States.
The luxury cruise lines Viking and Crystal, the Greek cruise line Celestyal Cruises, and the US luxury small ship line Victory, have all cancelled all cruises for the remainder of 2020. However, the worrying trend for the cruise industry is seen in the mass-market sector, where a growing number of big ships lines are heading in the same direction.
In the UK, Fred Olsen has cancelled most of its 2020 cruises, with only two December departures aboard Balmoral available for booking. Its other ships, such as Braemar, aren’t scheduled to re-enter service until March, 2021.
Viking’s decision is noteworthy because in March it was the first cruise line to suspend operations globally, suggesting it may once more be a forebearer of measures the rest of the industry will be forced to take in the coming weeks.
“On March 11, when we became the first cruise line to temporarily suspend operations at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I would not have imagined that in August we would still not be sailing and that I would be writing this letter to you,” said Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen, in a letter to passengers.
Holland America Line and Princess Cruises have both cancelled most 2020 cruises
“Every day I am encouraged by the scientific advancements toward COVID-19 therapeutics and a vaccine,” he added. “But as you well know, recent events have shown us that the recovery from this pandemic will be sporadic, and the ability to travel freely across borders remains some time away.”
His predicament is the same as every other cruise line, except some key European cruise lines that have benefited from robust measures to bring coronavirus under control in their home markets, enabling the limited resumption of cruises.
The US cruise industry has put itself on pause voluntarily until October 31, 2020, and the mainstream lines under Carnival Corp., the Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings have current restart dates in November, 2020.
But unless progress is made in the United States to prevent further spread of the virus, it’s unlikely that cruise lines will be allowed to return to service, and international travel restrictions will prevent US-reliant cruise lines that cruise globally from being able to tap the world’s largest cruise market for fly cruises.
It’s a particularly unfortunate situation for cruise lines as the Christmas holiday period in December is when they are able to generate their highest per-passenger revenue due to increased demand, while January and much of the first quarter of the year is traditionally an off-peak period.