Much has been made of the encouraging 2021 booking trends
that cruise companies are reporting, including Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.,
which this week said that not only are bookings strong for next year but that
they are mostly new reservations, as opposed to rebookings of this year’s
In an interview with RCCL CEO and chairman Richard Fain,
even he admitted he was “a little bit” surprised by the level of demand for
“There’s really a hunger out there,” Fain said. “And, yes,
there is a lot of uncertainty for the immediate future but longer term, people
are eager -- cruising is a special thing and I think cruising has a particular
Like many people,
Fain said he is completely alone in his family’s “germ bubble” and has not seen
another human being face-to-face for more than two months.
“We don't allow
people in, we don't go out, we’re being careful about it,” Fain said. “My
children like to remind me that I’m in the vulnerable category. Which I could
In Vicki Freed's weekly Coffee Chat, Fain used the example of the
aftermath of 9/11 to make the point that while cruising will
change, what makes cruising fundamentally what it is will not.
He said that his particular situation is a good one -- “I
have my family around me, I have a nice house, we live in Florida” -- it is
“And I think people are eager to socialize again and that’s
where cruising comes in,” he said.
Vacationers could of course choose to socialize at
all-inclusive resorts, given the amount of bad press cruising has gotten
throughout the Covid-19 crisis, but Fain said that the bulk of people who are
now booking are experienced cruisers “who understand cruise and understand how
meticulous we are about abiding by health and safety protocols. These people
know us and trust us, and I think they think that we will learn enough to make
sure we’re doing all we can to protect them.”
“This has not been the disaster that so many people assume,”
he said. “They assumed this after 9/11, they assumed this after the Concordia,
they assumed this after SARS, they assumed this after the financial meltdown.
The industry is resilient and that’s partially because it adjusts.”
Despite the positive trends, Fain acknowledged concern about
the millions of people suddenly unemployed and what that means for
discretionary income going forward.
“There’s no question we’re impacted by economic activity,
and there is no question in my mind that you are going to see a weaker economy
as we come out of this,” he said. “But this is also a very unusual situation
because unlike prior economic downturns, the governments around the world are acting
to stimulate the economies. I think that means that the length of any recession
will be significantly shorter than it otherwise would be.”
Like every cruise executive, Fain is constantly being asked
when cruising will resume and what it will be like when it does. And like every
cruise executive, he doesn’t have an answer. He also pointed out that there is
a very good reason cruises have not released plans about their reopening
protocols like other business have: they’re not open.
“I must get 10 emails a day from the grocery store and
airlines and all of these people are telling us about their enhanced protocols
but the truth is they’re all operating,” he said. “They need to talk about
their protocols today because they’re operating today. But we’re not and I’d
rather have more time, get it right and make sure we’re doing it cooperatively
with the authorities than try to preempt it months before we start operations.”
As to where the first cruises might go, Fain predicts they
will likely be shorter sailings from drive markets. The company’s private island
in the Bahamas, Perfect Day at CocoCay, will be a prominent destination.
“There’s no question that one of the beauties of the private
destinations like Perfect Day at CocoCay is we control everything,” Fain said.
“Everybody that works on that island works for us. We can establish screening
protocols, we can establish hygiene protocols. We can set standards that you
can’t necessarily set in other destinations. From a starting point of view, it
Fain said passengers will see advanced capabilities of
RCCL’s Excalibur technology to enable contactless transactions.
“In the past, it was a nice thing to have. In the future, it
will be more of an essential part of our offering,” he said. “With the new
systems, there won’t be anything to sign. It will all be on your phone or your
card – it will all be touchless. You will have less physical contact, which in
a Covid world is a desirable thing.”
As many have predicted, the buffet as we know it is likely
to be gone.
But Fain noted that people get used to what seem like major changes at the
“I don’t think anyone says, ‘Where’s the midnight buffet?’”
he said. “You haven’t seen the midnight buffet for years and that was long
before we had Covid-19. Tastes change and people change, and cruise lines
change to accommodate.”