How Has COVID-19 Impacted the Cruise Industry?

Photo Courtesy: LUIS ACOSTA/Getty Images

Tourists and adventurers have viewed cruises as the Holy Grail of travel for quite some time. Cruises are lavish vacations traditionally associated with older travelers and "rich" people, but since 2016, millennials have made up about 32% of cruisers. Their interest in luxury cruising rose with each passing year — until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Cruise lines came under fire from the very beginning of this health crisis when various ships revealed they had coronavirus outbreaks on board. In fact, the Diamond Princess, a luxury Princess Cruises ocean liner owned by the Carnival Corporation, made headlines as one of the first cruise ships affected by the virus in February 2020, several weeks before countries around the world started shutting down on a large scale. The ship and its passengers spent most of February quarantined off the coast of Yokohama, Japan, and more than a dozen passengers died from the virus. 700-plus passengers were treated for the virus and eventually recovered.

Other ships were soon affected, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue a No Sail Order and direct all lines to cancel their cruises by mid-March 2020. In June, several international cruise companies set sail again in hopes of revitalizing the cruising industry — and more outbreaks soon followed. Norway’s Hurtigruten cruise line took the hardest hit, with hundreds of passengers and crew members from several cruises testing positive by mid-July. Germany’s AIDA Cruises and Paul Gauguin Cruises in the South Pacific also experienced outbreaks. Due to the new outbreaks on ships, the CDC extended the no-sail order on cruise ship operations from U.S. ports of call to October 31, 2020.

COVID cases dropped for a time, prompting states and cities across America to ease up on lockdown restrictions. The CDC, however, was ultimately forced to extend the No-Sail order on September 30, 2020. The CDC also constructed a framework for conditional sailing - one that took effect as of November 4, 2020. This framework requires passengers and crews to be tested at the beginning and end of sailings that are limited to no more than seven days. The ships are outfitted with test labs, and the crews are trained on procedures for testing and quarantining people on board, if necessary. "trial" voyages will also be conducted prior to restricted voyages. These changes will take time to fully integrate, prompting U.S. cruise companies to cancel or delay cruises as needed.

More people than ever before are asking questions about the safety of cruises. The pandemic has raised awareness with the general public about the health and safety issues passengers face onboard these mega-ships. What exactly are the hazards of sailing away on a cruise vacation, and can anything be done to improve cruise line safety standards in the future? Yes, possibly, if we take a closer look at the numerous ways COVID-19 has impacted the cruise industry.