Australia’s Border Force today extended the ban on cruise ships for another three months until September 17th, ending hopes of an early resumption of sailings.
Some cruise lines had been selling itineraries before the September deadline, but most have now relaxed refund and deposit policies, allowing passengers to easily switch to other dates if they wish.
The move comes as the major lines moved their first start dates further out – and talked about how they see the return of cruising world wide.
The Australian Border Force said in a statement: “On 15 May 2020, the Governor-General has extended the human biosecurity emergency period for an additional three months, from 17 June to 17 September 2020. This has enabled the Minister for Health to continue to exercise the emergency powers under the Commonwealth Biosecurity Act to prevent or control the spread of COVID-19.
“On 20 May 2020, the Minister for Health extended the determination to prohibit the arrival at an Australian port of any international cruise ship that has left a foreign port. The restrictions included direct arrivals and Round Trip Cruises.”
How the lines will cope with the return of cruising is becoming clearer.
For Silversea, it’s small ships perfect for the proposed trans-Tasman bubble. For Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, it’s a phased comeback: five to seven ships moving to the full fleet over time.
Dream Cruises is bringing back the cruise to nowhere – two or three days in the South china Sea without any port stops to worry about. And Queensland – yes, the state that still won’t open its borders to Aussie tourists – says its new terminal at Luggage Point will open in October, come what may.
It’s been a big week for cruise decision makers charged with trying to work out when you should book and what you can expect when you step on board.
But there is still no consensus on when. That’s in the hands of the health authorities, they concede. Though the flash sales continue and, annoyingly for those who matter most – passengers who want to book with certainty – there is scant consensus on when things might get back to normal.
Royal Caribbean and Norwegian’s best guess is August 1…for now. For Carnival and P&O Australia, it’s September 1. Most insiders agree one thing: only the true optimists expect to step aboard a cruise before September.
Cruise Passenger has been monitoring the global moves to relaunch cruise so you can make informed booking decisions.
Everywhere, the cruise industry is innovating to try and end the longest pause period in more than 80 years of cruising.
In Australia, none of the cruise lines were prepared to talk on the record about what dates look likely for local cruising or what they were planning to do to reassure the cruising public.
But earlier this month, Carnival Cruise Line in the US said it would phase in some cruises beginning August 1 in North America, with the lure of low prices to attract passengers.
The cruise company said eight Carnival ships will depart from the United States from August 1 with “enhanced operational protocols”. But it also recently announced hundreds of layoffs, and its leadership team – including those in Australia – would take pay cuts of 20 per cent.
A company statement to News Ltd made it plain they were hunkering down for a long haul.
“The changes have become necessary because the worldwide pause in cruise operations has been more prolonged than anticipated – with indications that it will not be short-lived.”
Royal Caribbean remains bullish, however, with CEO Michael Bailey anticipating it was “highly likely” that Asia or Europe would see the first ships. “It’s a very different story region by region. We will see different markets come back at a different pace.”
Richard Fain, chairman and CEO , added operations will only start once they are fully prepared, with proper health and hygiene protocols in place.
“We also need to restore the confidence of many by being transparent in our actions and communicating extensively [our plans],” Fain added.
Norwegian Cruise Lines Frank Del Rio, something of an oracle in the cruise industry, is on the record as saying cruising won’t resume until he can look his own family in the eye and say it is safe.
He expects a phased approach to resume cruises, beginning with up to six months to resume fleetwide operations across all 28 of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ ships. It’s a big call, as each ship in the fleet is costing over US$3 million a month to ride at anchor.
Perhaps the most rational response to those who say cruising is over came from Mr Fain, during a coffee chat reported in Travel Weekly, a trade newsletter.
“Cruise travel has evolved, I’m happy to say, and I think Royal has been in the lead in having the cruise experience evolve. So cruising two months ago was very different than it was two years ago or five years ago. We had been enhancing the product, and continuous improvement is in our blood.”
He recalled: “After 9/11, all of a sudden you had to do strip searches at the airport, you couldn’t take a bottle of water on the plane, our whole world was changing. People said, ‘nobody will ever fly if they have to take off their shoes, their belt and everything else.’
“And other people looked back and said, ‘you had 9/11 but nothing changed. We were are all back flying again.'”
Fain said both were wrong. “Air travel didn’t end. In fact, it grew. But it evolved, and it isn’t the same. You do go through security and identification checks and frankly, we’ve become accustomed to it and the technology has helped make that easier.
“I think the same thing will happen on the cruise ships,” he said. “It won’t be exactly as it was before.”
Silversea’s outgoing managing director Australasia, Adam Armstrong, has his eye on the governments of Australia and New Zealand and their proposed “travel bubble.”
“We have got two ships coming to Australia and New Zealand at the back end of this year – Silver Muse, our flagship and the expedition ship, Silver Explorer.
“They’re ideally-sized ships to get into all the ports of call around Australia and New Zealand, so if the bubble is expanded to include cruise – the Government is only currently considering air – we’ve got two ships ready and waiting, ready to go,” he said at a global teleconference to update the market on Silversea’s current status and future plans.