Royal Caribbean Group chairman Richard Fain's latest video message to advisors is decidedly upbeat, even for an executive who has often found the silver lining during the darkest days of the Covid pandemic.
And he has every reason to be. The company is launching sailings on Royal Caribbean International from Israel in May, and on Royal and Celebrity from Caribbean ports starting in June, bypassing the CDC's Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) that prevents large-ship cruising in U.S. waters by launching for North Americans just outside our borders.
Fain said the company's experience with Royal's Quantum of the Seas from Singapore and its two European brands, Tui Cruises and Hapag Lloyd, have shown that cruising can be done safely during the pandemic.
With the vaccine requirement in place for the Caribbean sailings, that safety gets multiplied.
But Fain also had a message for the many travel advisors out there are still frustrated with the CDC's glacial pace of progress when it comes to getting cruise ships back to operation in U.S. waters. For anyone following the CDC on this issue, when it dropped its No Sail Order last Halloween, it put in its place that CSO that -- in theory -- provided a path for cruising to resume in U.S. waters.
The order called for several phases, and the CDC said it would issue detailed technical rules for each phase. The first of those technical specifications, regarding the test sailings component of the order, was scheduled to be released in December. Almost three months later, they have not been produced.
Fain didn't give a definitive answer as to the cause of the delay, but he believes that "the pace of science has simply overcome that process."
"When the [CSO] was written, there were no vaccines, the disease was on an upward trajectory and heading towards a terrible peak," he said. "Testing was less available and more costly and therapeutics were limited; in general, the situation looked very bleak back then. What a difference five months makes. Today the vaccines and other measures have changed the trajectory from a steep climb to a dramatic fall. The pandemic isn't under control, but it is getting there, and society is beginning to open up."
Last October, he explained, preparing for resumption of service was based only on protocols. Today, "a vaccine approach makes much more sense."
"We don't know what the CDC is contemplating to address these very different set of circumstances, but just as they and other public health officials are doing elsewhere, we expect they will all adjust to the changes that have been and are taking place today," he said. "The Conditional Sailing Order was a very positive step at the time, but that time has passed. We look forward to a constructive dialogue with health officials in the United States and elsewhere for the path forward under these new circumstances."
Hopefully, this might mean that when the CDC finally speaks up, it won't necessarily be about technical guidance on the CSO it issued in October, but to issue a new and more direct path to cruising that takes into account the fact that the world we're in now, in Covid time, is eons away from where we were then.
Fain said that when it comes to preparing for a summer restart, Royal Caribbean Group is "planning now" but basing its plans "on where the science says we're likely to be, not where we were in the past, or we are at any given moment."
And as always, he implored advisors not to get complacent.
"Masks work, vaccines work -- if we let our guard down and stop taking simple precautions, we could cause another spike," he said. "That would really make me cry."