Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

With the start of river cruise season fast approaching, the question arises of how badly the coronavirus outbreak will impact sailings on China's Yangtze and on rivers beyond.

Before the virus began its deadly spread, the Yangtze had been gearing up for the first season in nearly a decade with two new luxury ships.

Last fall, Century Cruises launched its first new ship in six years, the Century Glory. And in May, Victoria Cruises is planning to debut the Victoria Sabrina, which it said will be the world's largest river ship and its first new vessel in 10 years.

The coronavirus outbreak, however, forced both companies to cancel some early season sailings. And Victoria this week said it decided to delay the opening of its 2020 season from mid-March until the beginning of April.

The company said it remains optimistic, however, that demand will bounce back.

"The safety and enjoyment of our passengers remains our top priority. However, as all indications point to this being a seasonal issue, we fully expect to commence cruise operations in early April."

The company also emphasized that "China and the Yangtze River is a remarkable journey that will endure. "

Richard Xie, deputy general manager of Century, said the resumption of sailings remains uncertain.

"I recall the market rebounded quickly after SARS in 2003," Xie said. "Most travel organizations broke even by the end of 2003. I hope this will happen again for all of us. However, it seems this time it is harder."

Viking, meantime, which has one ship on the Yangtze, the Viking Emerald, says it has canceled all China sailings through June.

Beyond the Yangtze, Viking has six ships in Europe that are dedicated to the Chinese market. Viking said none of those is scheduled to sail until March, but “given the scale of the outbreak and latest travel restrictions, we are likely to cancel some sailings and adjust ship deployment."

And if the virus continues to spread, we will no doubt begin to see a broader impact on travel and river cruising in general, possibly leading to a drop in demand for the Mekong and across Asia while potentially boosting interest in domestic and European river routes.

All the recent news reports of the thousands of people being stuck in quarantine on cruise ships could also have a negative impact on cruising in general.


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