Since the start of the pandemic, many cruises have been interrupted and rerouted due to Covid cases detected after boarding. But the situation is further accelerated with the extremely contagious Omicron variant. For the cruise sector, which still represented some 49 billion dollars in 2019, it is, after the complete shutdown at the start of the pandemic, a new terrible blow, says a study by the firm Roland Berger.
“This sector has been extremely penalized. They have lost tens of billions of dollars”, explains Didier Arino, director of the French specialist firm Protourisme. With Omicron, “they will suffer the media coverage (of the cases) and the loss of customers”, he predicts.
And yet, at the end of December, despite this new Omicron variant, Richard Fain, CEO of the Royal Caribbean Group wanted to believe it, with his “optimistic” version which provided for a “solid transition year in 2022 and a very good year 2023”.
Alas, despite the argument put forward by cruise lines that the percentage of passengers affected is low and that these are essentially asymptomatic cases, the Omicron variant turns the cruise ecosystem upside down, with many passengers put at risk. isolation, and number of boats hijacked or in quarantine, all highly publicized.
Boat diverted and quarantined, electronic bracelet for passengers…
Thus, on Wednesday, a boat cruising off the coast of hong kong with 3,700 people on board was forced to return to port due to the presence on board of 9 contact cases of an outbreak of contamination with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, according to the authorities.
Hong Kong health authorities have ordered the company’s Spectrum of the Seas Royal Caribbean Cruises to come back a day earlier than planned (see Reuters photo below)after discovering the presence on board of 9 people (out of 3,700, therefore) who have been in contact with a carrier of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The approximately 2,500 passengers and 1,200 crew members will only be allowed to disembark after testing negative for Covid-19. Waiting, “we have to wear electronic bracelets to track our movements on board”a passenger told AFP by telephone.
In fact, the “sanitary bubbles” (compulsory vaccination, multiple tests) put in place by the companies on their boats when travel resumes in the spring of 2021, are not 100% effective.
Another example, in Italyat least 45 holidaymakers out of the 4,813 on the MSC Grandiosa liner were placed in quarantine in the port of Genoa, and in Spain, 3,000 passengers from the AIDAnova were disembarked in Lisbon instead of the Canary Islands after the detection of 68 positive cases.
At Brazilcruise lines have announced themselves to suspend travel until January 21 due to “differences” with health authorities on the application of the Covid protocols decided two months ago.
[Photo: le 4 janvier, le navire de croisière ‘Queen Elizabeth’, amarré en Galice à La Corogne (Espagne), après que 22 cas positifs aient été détectés parmi les 1.281 passagers qu’il accueille et les 976 membres d’équipage qui y travaillent après l’embarquement la veille. L’un des passagers positifs a été transféré dans un hôpital et le reste des personnes infectées (et leurs proches) ont été isolés dans un hôtel de la ville. Crédit: Reuters]
Cruise lines unhappy with US CDC warning
In the United States, the health authorities (CDC) have raised the alert threshold and recommended avoiding cruises, including for vaccinated people. American customers represented in 2019, before the pandemic, 48% of the 30.5 million passengers worldwide, according to a study by Roland Berger.
The CDC’s decision “is particularly perplexing”, reacted in a press release the international association of cruise lines, CLIA, which argues that “The cases identified on cruise ships only representa tiny minority of the total population on board – much less than on dry land – and that the majority of these cases are asymptomatic or mild in naturerepresenting little or no burden on medical services on board or ashore”.
“What we have learned throughout this pandemic is that nothing is 100% virus proof, nothing”defends himself to AFP an executive of a large global company wishing to remain anonymous.
“All passengers are fully vaccinated and 100% of the population – crew and passengers – are repeatedly tested before and during the cruise”he adds, “no hotel, holiday center, train, bus, tests 100% of its customers as we do”.
Fewer booking drops and cancellations than with Delta
At the end of December, the company Royal Caribbean Cruisesalready announced in a press release, “a drop in bookings and an increase in cancellations for short-term sailings but to a lesser degree than experienced with the Delta variant”.
Norwegian Cruise Line, another industry giant, canceled eight destinations between January 5 and April “due to current travel restrictions”.
Companies are also facing positive cases in their aircrew. In Brazil, 60% of the positive cases identified by the health authorities were crew members, as were 60 of the 68 cases in Spain on the AIDAnova.