It has been roughly three months since the COVID-19 outbreak began on the Diamond Princess cruise ship out in Japan. Three months of seemingly endless doom and gloom and devastation to not only the cruise industry but tourism as a whole.
But we have hope. This will not be the end of cruising, we can promise you that.
How can we be so certain? For starters, our company does more than $100-million a year in cruise bookings. And – without any hesitation – all of our regular clients have said they will cruise again.
We have also learned a lot since February.
The Diamond Princess incident was handled incorrectly by both the Japanese authorities and the cruise line. They were operating as best they could with the information available at the time, but unfortunately cruise lines ended up becoming a symbol of COVID-19 and getting a bad reputation in the process.
Medical professionals now understand that quarantining passengers and staff on-board ships with confirmed cases was a mistake. This action forced people to live in close quarters without proper physical distancing, which we now know is key to slowing the spread of the virus. They also lacked proper preventative supplies, such as masks.
It is also worth noting the severity of infections. Of 112 passengers who had tested positive for the new coronavirus, 73 per cent showed no obvious symptoms, according to a study conducted by Japanese health officials, and only 10 deaths were reported.
As fear grew, more ships were denied entry to ports by various countries. This action put the passengers on-board at higher risk, while doing little to protect people on land. And there was scant mention in the news media of the countless ships still sailing during this period that experienced zero infections. We had hundreds of Tully clients out on cruise ships during the beginning of the COVID-19, and all arrived back home healthy, and without incident.
Of course, what is done is done. It is unfair to place blame. The virus caught everyone by surprise, and no one knew what the proper protocol was.
And yet, ill-informed people continue to blame the cruise lines. This is wrong on every level. For years, cruise companies have complied with strict health regulations established by the Cruise Lines International Association(CLIA) and public health experts from the highest levels. Unannounced inspections occur regularly. And hundreds of ships go above and beyond the minimum. Industry leaders are already working with health experts to determine what additional steps must be taken to prevent future incidents.
And what happened aboard cruise ships must be placed within the larger context of virus outbreaks around the world. We are also certain of one other truth: The world’s economy cannot afford to have the cruise industry collapse. As a whole, it accounts for 2 per cent of the overall global travel industry, according to CLIA. In 2018, 28.5 million passengers set sail, spending more than $46-billion (U.S.) on global cruises. That money accounts for nearly 1.2 million jobs – with $50-billion in wages and salaries. That does not even factor in the money spent in economies around the world, including some that depend heavily on tourism dollars for survival. All told, the economic impact of the cruise industry is estimated at more than $150-billion (U.S.).
The COVID-19 crisis will, no doubt, have a huge impact on new-to-cruise business. The industry was experiencing major growth, and that will vanish.
But make no mistake, the cruise industry will not.