Despite the economic gloom the COVID-19 pandemic has sprung on the region, the major cruise lines are getting ready to hit the high seas again this summer with bookings on the rise and as vaccinations both for tourists and the Caribbean population reach new heights.
The astronomical downturn in the lifeline cruise industry sector had hit many regional economies very hard as sailings dried up and as many of the Florida-based big players like Royal Caribbean were forced to anchor idle ships in Barbados and other tourism destinations.
Thousands of workers lost their jobs as support sectors like catering, taxi services and shore-based operators lost their jobs as onboard infections had soared, forcing both governments and the cruise liners to cancel services.
As governments scramble to acquire vaccines to inoculate populations to build herd immunity, most of the major companies say they are targeting a mid-July start-up date for resumption of cruises. Governments are elated.
Experts say that there has been strong demand from Britain and other European countries, largely because of their robust vaccination programs which began in earnest several months ago. The ships are planning to basically sail with passengers who are fully vaccinated, at least the majority of those on board would have to have completed the inoculation process.
“We see, for example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is cautiously relaxing many of the rules and regulations because they have the science and data so one of the things the industry has committed to is to fully vaccinate all of our crew members,” Royal Chief Executive Mike Bayley told a recent forum organized by the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). “I can tell you one product that has really exceeded our expectations is the product sailing out of Barbados later in the year, where we saw fantastic demand out of the United Kingdom market. We thought we would get good demand out of the U.S. and UK, but the UK was just great,” he said.
Royal had parked some of its ships in Bermuda, St. Martin and The Bahamas and will be using those islands as home ports for sailing the south, central and northern Caribbean destinations. Another company, Crystal Cruises, will also be home porting in Antigua from August.
Officials across the region agree that the success of the resumption of the cruise sector rests with vaccinations but experts want to also include workers in the support sector also taking their shots.
“The cruise sector has already indicated that they are only going to be bringing passengers to these shores who have completed a full dosage of vaccines,” Antigua’s Information Minister Melford told local publications. “That is important for us, but it also means on the flipside, that persons who are going to be involved in the trade, including taxi drivers, retail store operators and tour operators, similarly, there would be an obligation placed on them to ensure that they can provide safe passage and safe engagement with these arriving visitors.
As the U.S. and the region move to relax regulations and restart services, Canada has extended the ban on sailings until the end of February next year.
The resumption of services nears as a number of governments report success in acquiring relatively large batches of vaccines from China, Russia, and India while awaiting an announcement from the U.S. about promises to make at least 60 million doses available to the region in the coming weeks.