Demand for cruises in 2022 remains high, according to cruise lines, despite the new travel restrictions, health and safety protocols and uncertainty caused by the Omicron variant.
According to Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean, demand remains bouyant for 2022 and 2023 in particular.
Carnival, the world’s largest cruise company controlling around 45% of the global cruise market pre-pandemic, told The New York Times its bookings for the second half of 2022 have surpassed bookings for 2019.
Royal Caribbean, meanwhile, admitted that new variant concerns had impacted demand for 2021 and 2022, but demand for 2023 remained high.
According to Royal Caribbean, the Delta variant, which emerged in mid-2021, had caused more damage to demand than the Omicron variant thus far.
“I think what people have been saying is, I want to get out there, but I don’t want to do it too soon,” said Richard D. Fain, Chairman & CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, in the company’s last earnings call in October.
“[Future guests] want to make sure that things have stabilized,” he explained.
The current uncertainty surrounding Omicron certainly won’t help in that regard. The variant was first reported by South Africa, but has since been discovered in 77 countries.
Strict travel restrictions were imposed on South Africa, forcing Norwegian Cruise Line to cancel its planned summer cruise season in the country over Christmas and New Year, while other cruise lines such as Hapag-Lloyd have followed suit.
Major cruise lines have tightened their onboard safety protocols in response to the new variant, with new mask mandates and stricter vaccines policies, while in the UK, there are concerns the recently reopened cruise sector may be forced to shut down again.
This uncertainty has led to many cruise passengers taking a pessimistic approach to bookings in the short-term, while long-term they’re more optimistic.
Miranda Gibson, 63, an avid cruiser from Tampa, Florida, told The New York Times she’d taken two cruises this summer, but then canceled three cruises she had planned for the rest of the year because of her concerns over new variants.
“The first cruise I took in June in the Caribbean was heaven because everyone was vaccinated, Covid was under control and it was the first time in so long that we could have some carefree fun,” she said.
“Now with the variants everything is prickly again and you can’t really get a true relaxing cruise experience when you are worrying about Covid and masks and rules,” she added. “I’m booked in June 2022, and I know I’ll be tempted to go before then but I’m going to wait until it’s safer.”
Others believe cruise ships are among the safest vacation environments, because of the vaccine requirements and testing protocols.
“When you’re on a plane, or in a hotel or at a theme park you don’t know who has Covid around you,” said Timothy Ryan, 67, a retired financial trader from Miami who has 16 cruises booked through 2022.
“On a cruise, it’s detected right away, and the positive cases are isolated, so you can continue your vacation in a Covid-free bubble. I really don’t know a safer way to travel,” he said.
In reference to the ‘outbreak’ of COVID-19 aboard Norwegian Breakaway, the most recent cruise ship to suffer such an incident, The Points Guy makes the case that, due to the rigid testing and vaccine requirements enacted by cruise lines, only 0.5% of passengers and crew were infected.
“Passengers who test positive for COVID-19 before boarding are turned away from the ship, and those who test positive on board are quickly isolated,” writes Gene Sloan. “The result has been a transformation of cruise ships into places where vacationers are very unlikely to come in contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive.”