Richard Fain: Cruise picture is clearer in Europe than Alaska

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Royal Caribbean International will launch the Odyssey of the Seas from Israel in May.
Royal Caribbean International will launch the Odyssey of the Seas from Israel in May.

A day before revealing that Celebrity Cruises would launch service from Greece this summer, Royal Caribbean Group chairman Richard Fain said that he anticipated there would be a "good" Europe cruise season this year, but he was less certain about Alaska.

"I do think you will see a good European season this summer," Fain said, adding that it won't look the same as it usually does, and that how big it is depends on regulatory hurdles. "Our Tui brand is already operating. You see MSC and Costa operating out of Italy today. You see us announcing the operations from Israel to Greece -- Greece is going be a big destination. So yes, I think there will be" a Europe season.

Greece's cruise fortune grew with Celebrity's plan to put its newest ship, the Celebrity Apex, in Athens starting June 19. It will offer seven-day departures calling on three Greek islands, Limassol, Cyprus and Haifa, Israel.

Whether there will be an Alaska season, Fain said, "is less clear to me." 

"I can tell you that we and others are working on it," he said. "I don't think I feel confident enough to make a prediction as to whether we and they will be successful, but we're working on it." 

Fain said that because of Alaska's short season, the impact of not having cruises on the communities and small businesses there is "greater than others."

"It only has a few months to make hay while the sun shines," he said. 

Fain was addressing travel advisors during Vicki Freed's weekly Coffee Talk webinar with travel advisors. He said demand for bookings indicates that "people will go where they have the opportunity to cruise." 

"We're seeing that happening with our bookings which have exceeded our expectations for the cruises we've opened," he said. "We are going to be opening more."

Freed, Royal Caribbean's senior vice president of sales, trade support and service, said that bookings for the Adventure of the Seas cruises out of the Bahamas, which opened Wednesday at 5:30 a.m., "were coming in fast and furious. We're so excited."

Fain added that "certain categories were on waitlist and we just opened." 

In terms of bookings the company has taken on its cruises from Singapore and in Europe with Tui, Fain said he has been surprised by how many new-to-cruise passengers have sailed. 

"We assumed only experienced cruisers would go during this period and that first-timers wouldn't be interested," he said. "That simply isn't true at all." 

In Singapore, 80% of guests on the Quantum of the Seas have been first-timers, and on cruises from Germany, the Canary Islands and Greece, the percentage of first-timers is at or above where it had been before the pandemic. 

"People are fed up and they want to get out and there is pent-up demand and what we need to do is capture that," Fain said. 

When asked if he had any updates on when the CDC would let cruising resume, Fain reiterated his message from earlier this week that the CDC's Conditional Sailing Order is "out of date" and said Royal and others in the industry "feel that the time is to move on in light of the dramatic change we've seen in three areas: the vaccines, testing and contact tracing." 

Fain also addressed what is supposed to be the second phase of the order, trial cruises. 

"When we originally suggested the idea of trail cruises we were focused on being able to try out the protocols," he said. 

But now that the company's various brands and the industry have operated "hundreds and hundreds of cruises," he doesn't think they are needed. Instead of trial cruises, he said Royal might offer some shakedown cruises before its new itineraries launch, "to give the crew time to train and give our loyal supporting travel advisors a chance to see and learn about the product. [But] none of that has been decided yet. "

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