Royal Caribbean has still not decided whether guests will require vaccination to come aboard once ships are cleared to sail again from U.S. ports. But it’s clear the company — and the overall industry — is pinning its hopes on vaccines to speed the restart process.
“Widespread vaccinations are the fastest and the best way to get this disease under control,” said Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain, in the latest installment of a regular video update for travel advisors.
“We expect to vaccinate all of our crew members against the disease and they have indicated an overwhelming desire to be vaccinated. Whether we will require vaccines of all of our guests on all of our ships hasn’t been decided yet. But we are prepared to go where science leads us.”
Mandatory or not, the vaccines are critical to the industry’s future, Fain says.
“The determining factor to our ability to get society to reopen and to get cruising started again is getting this disease under control. We now have the ultimate weapon to do that — the vaccines. The beautiful part of this is that we know the vaccines work. We’re no longer talking about theory or expectations.”
Fain’s video was released on the same day his company announced a series of cruises from Haifa, Israel beginning in May. The brand-new, 4,180 passenger Odyssey of the Seas will visit ports in Greece and Cyprus on three- and seven-night sailings. In a first for a major contemporary cruise line, proof of vaccination will be required for all crew members and passengers over 16.
Israel is being seen as a ray of hope as it leads the world with over 70% of its adult population has already received at least one vaccination dose. More good news: a study of 600,000 Israelis who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine found a 94% drop in symptomatic COVID-19 infections.
Fain recognizes that the vaccination effort around the world is moving at a variety of speeds, and that making vaccinations mandatory may not happen quickly or at all. But he says the combination of more people getting vaccinated and stringent onboard health and safety precautions sets the stage for a successful restart.
“We’re well aware that COVID-19 isn’t going to be eradicated and it will always be possible that there will be cases on ships just as there will be cases on land. However, I believe it’s also possible to establish strong protocols to deal with those cases when they arise.
“Our goal is to isolate individual cases so they don’t become an outbreak which ruins the vacation of everyone else. Our isolation and contact tracing protocols will help isolate the few cases that do occur and we believe that these protocols will be an important element in our ability to ramp up cruises in a reassuring manner.”
During the video, Fain acknowledged the approach of a dark milestone for the cruise industry.
“I can’t believe that we’re approaching the anniversary of suspending all of our cruises. Ugh. It’s been a year of frustration and of disappointment. A year of anger and uncertainty,” he said.
But he believes we’re entering “the last few months” of the global crisis. “I’m so eager to get back to normal business that I could scream. The public craves the opportunity to cruise and the economy needs the employment that the cruise industry provides.
“As I said early in this pandemic, there won’t be one big day when somebody blows a trumpet and all of our ships embark simultaneously around the world. Instead, you’ll hear a growing cacophony of happy vacationers who can finally leave their homes as we gradually phase in more and more cruises generating more and more new adventures and memories.”
Fain warned about declaring victory too soon, but he says that with ships now operating in Singapore, Italy, the Canary Islands and soon Israel, Greece and Cyprus, the question “When will cruising resume?” is no longer valid.
“It already has resumed. Odyssey of the Seas will be our 5th ship operating around the world and is very much a part of our ramp-up. Cruising has restarted and it will ramp up nicely.”