If cruise sales and client service were challenging for travel advisors last week, this week could bring even rougher seas as late last Friday, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), as well as the world's four biggest cruise companies -- Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and MSC Cruises -- all hit the cruise "pause" button.
CLIA said its large member lines were voluntarily pausing service as of March 14, although small ship companies would continue to operate. The Big Three said their brands would stop operating any cruises through April 10, 2020, while MSC Cruises opted to suspend cruises for 45 days.
That said, on Saturday, RCL announced it was suspending cruises globally; see our separate story on that later development.
New CLIA Policy
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which also initiated a travel advisor "call to action" initiative on Friday, said the following in its statement about the COVID-19 response and what its member lines would be doing.
"CLIA oceangoing cruise lines will be voluntarily and temporarily suspending cruise ship operations from and to U.S. ports of call for 30 days as public health officials and the U.S. Government continue to address COVID-19."
“CLIA cruise line members are voluntarily and temporarily suspending operations from the U.S. as we work to address this public health crisis,” said Kelly Craighead, CLIA's president and CEO. “This is an unprecedented situation. Our industry has taken responsibility for protecting public health for more than 50 years, working under the guidance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and prides itself on its ability to deliver exceptional vacation experiences for guests, as well as meaningful employment opportunities for crew.
"This has been a challenging time, but we hope that this decision will enable us to focus on the future and a return to normal as soon as possible.”
“We do not take this decision lightly, and we want the traveling public to know in no uncertain terms the commitment of this industry to putting people first,” said Adam Goldstein, CLIA global chairman. “During this time, we will continue to work with the CDC and others to prepare for resumption of sailings when it is appropriate. We know the travel industry is a huge economic engine for the United States and when our ships once again sail, our industry will be a significant contributor to fueling the economic recovery.”
"The cruise industry is a vital artery for the U.S. economy, supporting over 421,000 American jobs, with every 30 cruisers supporting one U.S. job, and annually contributes nearly $53 billion to the U.S. economy. Cruise activity supports travel agencies, airlines, hotels and a broad supply chain of industries that stretches across the United States.
"Guests who are booked on cruise itineraries which will be impacted by this decision are encouraged to contact their travel advisors or reach out to their cruise lines directly. For additional information, please contact [email protected]."
In a press statement on Friday, MSC Cruises said the following, which was a bit longer a "stop" than the CLIA approach of 30 days:
"In light of the extraordinary circumstances the world is currently facing in connection with the COVID-19 virus, MSC Cruises has taken the difficult decision to temporary stop all its U.S.-based new cruise embarkations for 45 days until April 30.
"As the COVID-19 situation is now a global pandemic, governments across the globe are continuously reviewing ashore public health and safety measures to protect local populations and limit the further spread of the virus. MSC Cruises’ decision aims to mirror and further support the effectiveness of such efforts.
"Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises, said: “This is not a decision we took lightly but under the current circumstances, the health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities ashore – including our employees and their families – must come first. As a family company with over 300 years of maritime tradition, we felt that this was the right decision to make.”
"The Company has already also halted ship operations across all areas considered as high risk for the virus, in the Mediterranean, the Gulf and Asia. Ships still in operation in South America and South Africa will also end their operations at the end of their current itineraries.
"In 2019, MSC Cruises hosted nearly three million guests on board its ships deployed across five continents, representing over 170 nationalities.
"MSC Cruises is offering guests affected by today’s decision the opportunity to transfer 100% of the money paid for their cancelled vacation plus an additional generous credit benefit to a future cruise of their choice at any point through the end of 2021. If not used by that date, guests will receive a full refund of the cruise fare."
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., parent of Azamara, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International issued this statement on Friday:
"We understand the gravity of the public health crisis confronting the country. And this is our part to play. So, beginning at midnight tonight, we are pausing the fleet's US sailings for 30 days.
"We are reaching out to our guests to help them work through this disruption to their vacations, and we are truly sorry for their inconvenience. We are also communicating with our crew to work out the issues this decision presents for them. We know this adds great stress to our guests, employees and crew, and we are working to minimize the disruption.
"Cruises that depart U.S. ports before midnight tonight and international cruises will operate their scheduled itineraries. U.S. ships already at sea will finish their itineraries as planned. Our business is providing great vacations and creating great memories. We look forward to getting back to work as soon as we can."
Norwegian Cruise Line
Here is the note that Norwegian Cruise Line sent to travel partners last Friday:
"We value your partnership with Norwegian Cruise Line and want to update you regarding our recent decision to voluntarily suspend cruise voyages effective immediately for 30 days. This temporary suspension comes after collaboration with federal officials and is aimed at contributing to efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 and covers voyages with embarkation dates from March 13 through April 11, 2020. We will plan to commence cruise operations with embarkations beginning April 12, 2020.
"The health, safety and well-being of our guests and crew remains our highest priority. I want to emphasize that this measure is being taken in an abundance of caution within our family of brands, as we have not had any confirmed cases of COVID-19 across our 28-ship fleet. We greatly appreciate the understanding of our loyal guests and valued travel partners during these fluid, unprecedented and challenging times. Working closely and in partnership with local, state, federal and global agencies, we are committed to taking all appropriate precautions and actions to combat the spread of COVID-19.
"Voyages that are currently in process will end as soon as possible and guests will disembark. We will work closely with them on travel arrangements to bring them home. We have asked our guests who are currently booked on voyages departing from March 13 through April 11, 2020 to contact you, or Norwegian Cruise Line for more information. Below are a few details that may be helpful when speaking to your clients:
- Cruises scheduled to embark between March 13 through March 17, 2020:
- These guests will receive a 150 percent refund of the fare paid in the form of a future cruise credit, which can be applied toward any cruise through December 31, 2022.
- For guests who wish to not avail themselves of the 150 percent future cruise credit, a 100% refund of the fare paid will be reimbursed to the original form of payment within 90 days of guests’ requests.
- Cruises scheduled to embark between March 18 through April 11, 2020:
- These guests will receive a 125 percent refund of the fare paid in the form of a future cruise credit, which can be applied toward any future cruise through December 31, 2022.
- For guests who wish to not avail themselves of the 125 percent future cruise credit, a 100 percent refund of the fare paid will be reimbursed to the original form of payment within 90 days of guests’ requests.
"In continuing the spirit and philosophy of Partners First, we will protect travel partner commissions related to these canceled cruises, as per the usual policy. All paid commissions are protected and will not be recalled.
"We understand there will be questions surrounding this news and we are working diligently to finalize FAQs to share in the coming days. We are also working to implement several system updates to reflect this information, as well as a web form to request a refund, should your guest elect not to utilize the FCC. We expect the system updates and web form to be ready by March 23, 2020, so we ask for your patience and understanding.
"Please know that all of us at Norwegian Cruise Line remain committed to providing your clients with the best vacation experience across the globe. We truly appreciate your continued patience, understanding, partnership and loyalty as we manage through this rapidly evolving crisis. We are in this together and alongside you and are committed to providing additional updates as they are available."
Four additional North American cruise line brands will take a voluntary month-long pause, suspending new cruise voyages, Carnival Corporation said Friday. Princess Cruises had already said it would suspend voyages; see our article here.
Here's what the Carnival Corp. announcement said:
"The pause in cruise operations is being made out of an abundance of caution to support the global effort to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
"Through serving our many guests who still wanted to travel, we've stood with all the people in the port communities here in the U.S., and in the other places we sail, who are dependent on us for their livelihood," said Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corporation. "And today we stand with the nation as we together seek to mitigate the spread."
"Individually, each brand is communicating with guests to provide direction regarding the disruption to their cruise vacations. Date of resumed cruise operations also will be communicated by each respective brand and available on their websites."
Carnival Corp. also said the corporation and its brands are also notifying crew members, travel professionals, suppliers and other stakeholders.
Carnival Cruise Line
In its own statement, Carnival Cruise Line announced that it is pausing operations for a month-long period, effective with departures scheduled from Saturday, March 14 through Saturday, April 11 across its fleet of ships based in North America. All ships currently at sea will continue their voyages and return to their homeports as scheduled.
The line's announcement said: "Throughout this COVID-19 situation that has now turned into a global pandemic, we have implemented higher and higher levels of screening, monitoring and sanitation protocols to protect the health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we serve.
"While Carnival has not had a diagnosed case linked to our operation we realize this situation is bigger than the cruise industry and we will continue to do our part to support public officials to manage and contain this unprecedented public health challenge. We are contacting booked guests directly regarding their cruise and their options.
"Our guests have been tremendously patient and understanding as we have reacted to a rapidly changing situation and a desire to be responsive to authorities in the U.S. and the destinations we visit. We are very sorry that this decision will disrupt the vacation plans for our guests and look forward to resuming operations and providing our guests safe, fun and memorable vacations.
"And it goes without saying, we can only do that with the support of our outstanding onboard team members who have been nothing short of amazing during this prolonged period of challenge."
Seabourn said it will voluntarily pause global operations of its five cruise ships for 30 days, starting March 14, 2020, noting that "the decision is a voluntary response to the unpredictable circumstances evolving from the global spread of COVID-19 and in an abundance of caution."
“In this unprecedented situation, we feel a pause is necessary,” said Rick Meadows, president of Seabourn. “Through this action, it is our absolute intention to convey to our guests and the travel advisor community that we have the health and safety of all who travel with us as a top priority. Our pause should also reassure the hundreds of destinations we visit each year that we want to be responsible in our operations as we bring travelers into their communities each time we visit.”
The statement continued: "Current voyages that are underway will end by March 22, 2020. Seabourn will be communicating these changes with all booked guests and their travel advisors.
"Seabourn guests on impacted voyages will receive a 125 percent refund of the fare paid in the form of a future cruise credit, which can be applied toward any future cruise through December 31, 2021. For guests who do not opt to choose the 125 percent future cruise credit, a 100 percent refund of the fare paid will be reimbursed to the original form of payment."
Seabourn was asking guests not to call the Reservation Call Center due to the possibility of high call volumes and the potential of long on-hold wait times. Instead, the line said guests and their travel advisors will be sent communications on how to manage cancellations and desired compensation. Information and instructions for requesting a refund will be available online at Seabourn.com.