Travel and tourism were among the industries hardest hit by COVID-19 in 2020. The cruise ship industry experienced early recognition for all the wrong reasons as some vessels became coronavirus hotspots. They generated multiple cases of the virus, leaving frightened passengers stranded at sea, quarantined on board, waiting for permission to disembark as numerous port authorities turned them away. Indeed, it seemed that few people would ever consider another cruise holiday after what happened.
However, the first cruise since coronavirus started recently set sail from Genoa in Italy. What does this mean for the industry's post-pandemic recovery?
What did would-be cruise passengers do?
When it became apparent that cruises were off the cards for some time to come, people had to find their entertainment elsewhere. As travel in most forms was further discouraged to curb the virus's spread, would-be travelers learned to entertain themselves from home. Those who had previously enjoyed gambling onboard cruise ships turned to the online casino. While online gaming is not legal in all US states, those that have allowed it are reaping the revenue rewards. Other US states are enacting legislation to follow in these pioneers' footsteps and make online casinos legal.
Some cruise enthusiasts who waited it out can see the light at the end of the tunnel now that some progress to restart sailing is evident. However, it will be some time before cruises run on similar schedules to those before COVID-19.
Can cruise companies recover?
Cruise companies lost billions in revenue within a few short months. Some were forced to undertake cruise ship dismantling to make money from selling their ship parts to other enterprises. Thousands of employees lost their jobs and became dependent on their countries' governments for unemployment benefits.
However, the cruise industry has utilized this drydock time to adjust and adapt itself to the new normal. Companies have introduced measures to ensure that their ships are never again labeled 'Petri dishes at sea' or forced to stand idle for months on end. Among them are rigorous screening efforts to ensure that passengers do not have COVID.
Once aboard, guests can expect social distancing regulation adherence as ships take 30-40% fewer passengers than before. Some cruise companies will offer guests wristbands for contactless access to their cabins and payment machines.
As vaccination programs accelerate, some companies might insist that only vaccinated passengers board their ships. This is expected to further boost customer confidence, which took a hard knock in COVID-19's early stages.
Prices will undoubtedly fall as companies look to entice passengers aboard their cruises. Additionally, most cruises might remain in domestic waters to overcome travel restrictions. Cruise companies will also limit stops during cruises to avoid unnecessary contact with others.