The latest message from Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain can be summed up by a Thomas Fuller quote: “It is said that the darkest hour of the night comes just before the dawn.”
In one of a regular series of videos keeping travel advisors up to date on progress at the world’s second-largest cruise company, Fain acknowledges the pain of the past 10 months and the current situation as the global health crisis continues its deadly rampage.
But the long-time cruise executive makes a compelling case for optimism, largely inspired by “the magic of science.”
“I continue to find it amazing that only 10 months after COVID-19 began to ravage our country, scientists and medical researchers have developed multiple vaccines that will help us gain control over the disease,” Fain says. “I fear that we take such miracles for granted but this is truly a towering achievement. We should recognize it for the wonder it represents.”
As bad as things are at the moment, Fain says improvement is coming — and it could come fast. “With infections at an all-time high, how is it we can be so optimistic? The answer is simple: we’re watching the numbers,” he said.
He cites projections from the Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation at the University of Washington, an organization supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which Fain calls “one of the best-known and best-respected sources of pandemic information.”
The Institute predicts that infections and fatalities will peak at the end of January and begin to fall rapidly from there. They point out that 22 percent of the U.S. population has already had the virus and is now largely immune for reinfection. Another 4 percent or so have received at least one vaccination shot and up to one million people are being vaccinated across the U.S. each day. Mask usage and other factors are also used to create projections for the epidemiological curve.
Fain says the Institute anticipates a dramatic decline starting shortly and continuing to plummet over the next three months. “They project that by the end of April, we can expect levels 20 times lower than today’s peak — and the lowest they’ve been since early last year,” Fain said.
“We’re in the midst of the worst part of the storm and it is horrific. But we need to consider the likely direction over the next few months and that’s why I’m so positive. Finally we are approaching the point where we can run out the clock on this terrible disease.”
Of course the pain isn’t over yet for the cruise industry, as Fain acknowledges. “First of all we need to survive. We’ve taken a number of steps to reinforce our own financial strength.”
Just this week, Royal Caribbean announced the sale of its destination-focused Azamara brand and its fleet of three ships for $201 million in an all-cash transaction. The buyer was private equity firm Sycamore Partners.
In another move, Royal Caribbean has made the decision to keep the 4,905-passenger Quantum of the Seas in Asia. The ship is currently finding success offering three- and four-night ‘cruises to nowhere,’ from Singapore.
In March 2020, Royal Caribbean announced that Quantum would sail to Alaska from Seattle in 2021 for the first time. But with the Alaska season in some doubt — some lines have canceled April and May early-season sailings already — it seems like a solid decision.
Royal Caribbean ships Ovation of the Seas, Serenade of the Seas, and Radiance of the Seas are still scheduled to sail in Alaska this year. The line says it continues to work closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and government authorities in the U.S. and Canada on a restart plan.
Fain wound up his optimistic presentation with a quote from iconic martial artist and actor Bruce Lee: “Patience is not passivity. It is concentrated strength.” And Fain added: “We will all come back stronger.”