For the cruise ship industry, the corona-virus is starting to get a marketing and public-relations nightmare. So far, Cruise companies have been reluctant to release data on bookings, but some travel advisers say they are off by as much as 15%.
A growing number of ports across the Pacific, from Busan, South Korea to the New Caledonian ports of Lifou, Mare and Isle of Pines, are banning cruise ships. Hong Kong has been closed since February 6, 2020.
For more than two weeks, the world has watched as the Carnival Diamond Princess ship has been quarantined in the Japanese port of Yokohama, its 3,600 passengers and crew stuck and the number of people infected by the corona-virus climbing to 218.
A second Holland America Line (HAL) passenger ship, MS Westerdam has been sailing the South China Sea like a modern-day version of the Flying Dutchman, turned away from five ports over fears that a person onboard was infected.
The cruise lines have faced crises before, but COVID-19, as the disease has been named, and whose ultimate worldwide spread is still to be seen, could be its biggest challenge yet.
The longer ships like the Diamond Princess stay in the press, the more people who have never taken a cruise before think of cruising as a less than ideal vacation. So like before, the media will be bribed in order to sensor the events?
The cruise companies have been reluctant to release any data about whether there has been any impact on bookings in the $45.6 billion global industry in the weeks since the outbreak began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, but some travel advisers say they are off by 10 to 15%.
The companies, including the biggest lines like Norwegian Cruise Lines and Carnival Corp., which includes Princess Cruises, have either declined to comment or have released statements reiterating that their priority is passenger safety.
Each cruise line also listed the precautions it is taking to keep passengers safe: Because they typically have thousands of people in a small space over an extended period of time, cruise ships are known to be incubators for illnesses.
However, if the industry doesn’t get its arms around this it could affect customer confidence in China toward cruises for a very long time.
China has been one of the travel industry’s biggest growth markets in recent years, and, trips in the Asia-Pacific region make up about 10% of the industry.
Between 8 and 9% of passengers on cruise lines represented by the trade group, Cruise Lines International Association, are from China, Macau or Hong Kong and the number of ships deployed in Asia grew 53% between 2013 and 2017.
Cruises tend to be expensive, with an average nine-day sailing in Asia running about $1,800, travel advisors said, and booked long in advance.
A passenger on the MS Westerdam, the Holland America ship that was stuck in limbo looking for a port that would take it, booked her trip a year and a half ago.
Sihanoukville, in Cambodia, finally agreed to let the ship dock on Wednesday. Holland America Line said that it will arrange and pay for all passengers’ flights home, in addition to giving a full refund for the cruise.
New York Times / ABC Flash Point News 2020.