This is the Coronavirus Case Studies series. Each post in this series will talk about how the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 will affect different businesses for years to come. We’re all still processing this massive, life-changing event. This week, we talk about how coronavirus will affect the cruise industry. 

The coronavirus has been showing its teeth for a while now. A million people have died of the coronavirus, and a fifth of them have been on US soil. As of the morning that I’m writing this, President Donald Trump and the First Lady tested positive for COVID-19.

At some point each day, I think of how the coronavirus directly impacted almost every industry and lifestyle. You can’t escape it.

Coronavirus hit the cruise industry especially hard. After all, it was when almost an entire cruise ship full of passengers got infected that we really started to understand how serious the virus was. The ship searched and searched for a port at which to dock.

Where does the cruise industry go from here? How do you recover from that? Prior to the pandemic, cruises were one of the most popular ways to vacation. So how do you move forward from here?

What is the Cruise Industry?

Cruise ships are large passenger ships used mainly for vacationing. Unlike ocean liners, cruise ships embark on round-trip voyages to various ports-of-call, where passengers may go on tours known as “shore excursions.” On “cruises to nowhere” or “nowhere voyages”, cruise ships make two- to three-night round trips without visiting any ports of call.

This fact is one of the reasons so many people around the world gravitate towards taking a cruise. They give you the opportunity to see port cities around the world, all while you drink a mai tai from the pool on the top deck. What’s not to love?

On top of all of the destinations, cruise ships often have other attractions and amentities as well. You name it, and cruise ships have it – clubs, games, movies, and more.

The Cruise Industry, By the Numbers

In 2017, a record 25.8 million passengers cruised globally. It was estimated then that 27.2 million globally would cruise in 2018. The industry represents $126 billion in total economic impact. Of that, $41 billion went to wages for at least 1 million jobs. It’s safe to say that this is one of the most popular ways to vacation. Millions are drawn by the desire to see destinations around the world, spending a few days in each place. 

I hinted at this earlier, but one of the first major stories to come out this year in relation to cruises and COVID-19 had to do with The Grand Princess cruise line. Not familiar with it? Here is a brief recap of the event. Bear in mind, this was horrifying when it happened and led to many lawsuits.

According to USA TODAY, two new lawsuits allege that Princess Cruises didn’t take adequate steps to protect passengers. Two ships became the focus of international attention when they stricken by outbreaks of the coronavirus in February 2020. The lawsuits allege that the cruise line failed to adequately screen for COVID-19 during the boarding process aboard the Grand Princess and Ruby Princess. Furthermore, Princess Cruises did not impose a quarantine quickly after the cases were discovered.

The Grand Princess lawsuit states that a passenger started showing symptoms of the coronavirus eight days after the ship departed for Mexico on Feb. 11. The suit alleges that screening procedures were insufficient.

New passengers were allowed to board the Grand Princess within hours after its arrival in San Francisco on Feb. 21. There was not enough time to clean the ship before it sailed to Hawaii. On the way back, passengers were quarantined after a passenger from the previous cruise to Mexico tested positive for the coronavirus.


Next Steps for the Cruise Industry

Take away all of the statistics for a second, and let’s just think about what happens if you are on a cruise ship during a pandemic. You have…

  • Close quarters
  • One boat
  • An easily spread virus

It’s a recipe for disaster. Luckily, passenger cruises have been working in tandem with the CDC to ensure the safety of the guests, and workers onboard cruise ships.

Because of the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and the high risk of COVID-19 spread on cruise ships, the US government issued a No Sail Order for cruise ships in waters subject to US jurisdiction and has advised US travelers to defer all cruise travel. The No Sail Order is published in the Federal Register and went into effect March 14th of this year. The order is still in effect until October 31 of this year and may be pushed back further. In other words, don’t bank on going on that whale-watching cruise soon. 

Moving forward, there will be several major shifts that the industry takes to help ensure the safety of crew members, and guests alike. The first, and most obvious, is limiting the guest capacity onboard the ships. Cruises are one of the densest forms of travel when it comes to the number of guests per ship. This will allow ships to adhere to social distancing guidelines. In addition to reducing guests on the ship, to get on, you will likely have to pass a medical screening that is a little bit more thorough than a questionnaire. It is still unclear what other changes will be made as ships remain docked, but until then, expect more changes to come. We’re still in uncharted waters.

Final Thoughts

COVID-19 reshaped our society as we know it. Times are changing, and the way that we operate is changing too. It is so sad to see an industry go through this kind of turmoil due to something completely out of their control.

While it will be an uphill battle, cruise lines will be back in action before we know it. They might look a little different, and have far fewer people, but hey, if nothing else, it means more space on the top deck for whale-watching!