Having been awarded a ‘conditional sailing certificate’ by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), whereby at least 95% of crew and 98% of passengers are fully vaccinated, Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Cruises Celebrity Edge is the first big cruise ship scheduled to set sail from the US in more than a year. Short-term, there are still issues around safety protocols on board and how to manage this, but long-term, this first voyage gives hope for leading US cruise players to safely resume operations.
US tourists are avid cruisers
Americans are avid cruisers. GlobalData’s Q3 2019 consumer survey* found that 24% of US respondents typically take cruise holidays, much higher than the global average (15%). Cruises will continue to be in high demand in the US, as these trips allow Americans to visit multiple places in one voyage, which makes it an effective form of travelling for this market.
Part of the CDC’s order for resuming cruises is for ‘simulated voyages’, where volunteer passengers can stay for at least three days and two nights replicating a normal cruise with only 10% of normal passenger capacity, acting as a form of test. Before Royal Caribbean was given a conditional sailing certificate for highly vaccinated cruises, it planned to operate a ‘simulator voyage’. More than 250,000 volunteered to take part in the sailing process, with the company demonstrating that there is clearly high demand amongst US tourists. As of 1 June 2021, the CDC has provisionally approved four requests for test cruises to begin with another six requests currently ‘under review’, demonstrating plans are underway for US cruise tourism to return safely.
Vaccination scepticism may impact cruise recovery
The US currently has one of the highest vaccination rates worldwide (907.5 vaccine doses have been administered per 1,000 people as of 2 June 2021 according to GlobalData’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard). However, vaccine scepticism in the country will be a barrier for the rollout of more conditional sailing certificates. GlobalData’s Poll ** found that 21% of North American respondents (including the US) declared they do not intend to take a vaccine, which could negatively impact cruise uptake.
Some cruise operators have stated that vaccination will be necessary for passengers to travel safely going forward. Others have stated a negative test will suffice, but to achieve a conditional sailing certificate issued by the CDC in the US, vaccination will be a primary driver. This suggests there remains a long-term recovery period for US cruise operators, but there is hope on the horizon.
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*GlobalData’s Q32019 consumer survey – 990 US respondents, 29,744 global respondents
** GlobalData’s Verdict Poll – live since 12 March 2021 – 10,223 respondents