Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, the second- and third-largest cruise companies in the world after Carnival Corporation, have cancelled all calls to Israel into 2024.
The cancellations are an extension of the itinerary changes made to Eastern Mediterranean cruises for both companies in 2023, on expectations of the geopolitical tensions in Israel continuing into next year.
In public statements, Israeli officials have said that they are planning for a long campaign against Hamas, the militant group that launched cross-border attacks on the country on October 7th from the Gaza Strip.
Royal Caribbean Group has cancelled Israel as a port of call as late as October next year for its flagship Royal Caribbean International brand, as well as TUI, Silversea, and Celebrity Cruises.
“We don’t know how long this conflict is going to go on for, which could very much inform where the consumer wants to go next year,” said Jason Liberty, Royal Caribbean Group chief executive officer.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has cancelled Israel calls for all of 2024 for its flagship NCL brand, as well as Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises.
“It will be a while before people are comfortable going back to Israel which is why we are canceling all Israel calls in 2024,” said Harry Sommer, President and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.
Both cruise companies have replaced Israeli ports of call with nearby Mediterranean ports, including Corfu, Cyprus, Rhodes and other Greek islands.
While all major cruise lines have pulled out of Israel for the remainder of 2023, Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings are the first to cancel their Israeli calls through 2024.
It’s likely that other cruise lines will follow suit. Even if the Israel-Hamas war were resolved in the near future, the country will remain an uncertain destination for months to come, despite its major draw as a destination due to the Holy Land.
At this time, it remains to be seen how much of an impact the conflict will have on the wider Middle East cruise sector in 2024. MSC Cruises cancelled its Red Sea cruise season for 2023/24 out of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, while Windstar Cruises cancelled its season in the Arabian Gulf out of Dubai, UAE.
Both decisions were driven by fears of the conflict escalating into a wider war that impacts security throughout the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea regions. Egypt has seen several cruise lines cancel port calls in the country through 2023, and early 2024.
Liberty said it was too early in the European cruise season for Royal Caribbean to say whether the conflict was having an impact on the demand to sail in that region.
Sommer told investors that Norwegian was seeing a rise in cancellations and a slowdown in bookings to the region near Israel, primarily in short-term reservations.
“We are bullish about the ability to return to places like Egypt and other places in the Middle East,” Sommer said.