Coronavirus, a situation that keeps on changing
The World Health Organization has now labelled the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. This means it is a disease that is spreading between people in multiple countries around the world at the same time. At the time of the announcement there had been 118,000 cases in 114 countries.
These countries are each implementing their own specific measures to combat the virus. The global cruise industry is doing the same in an environment which is constantly changing.
Yesterday (March 11) Viking announced it will temporarily suspend river and ocean cruise operations until May 1, 2020 in response to the coronavirus COVID-19 situation.
In a letter to currently-booked guests, chairman Torstein Hagen said: “Since we started Viking nearly 23 years ago, we have always cared first and foremost about our guests and our employees
“I am sure you recognise that COVID-19 has made travel exceedingly complicated. An increasing number of ports, including Venice, Monte Carlo and Bergen, have temporarily closed to cruise ships; major attractions such as the Vatican and other museums have been closed; and some countries are imposing restrictions on public gatherings and visitors.
“As a private company with strong finances, we do not have to worry about quarterly profit expectations - and that flexibility allows us the ability to do what is best for our guests and our employees, as we have always done.”
Many cruiselines have made changes to Asian itineraries but the recent ‘lockdown’ in Italy has brought the situation much closer to Cruise Europe’s home. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, for example, is cancelling all its calls there and changed its port of embarkation for affected cruises from Civitavecchia to Barcelona.
Carnival UK is now reviewing itineraries that include Italy for P&O Cruises (but not Cunard as there are no imminent cruises calling). With three of its ships due to call in to or around the area most impacted by COVID-19, South East Asia and China, Carnival UK altered the itineraries of Queen Mary 2, Arcadia and Queen Elizabeth to avoid Asia altogether.
Itinerary changes are hard to keep up with but range from AIDA Cruises cancelling its entire Asia cruise season on AIDAbella and AIDAvita to Costa Cruises cancelling all calls to Italy until April 3. Passengers are being allowed to disembark in Italian ports if they are currently on cruises which departed before the decision on March 10. Italian passengers must return home whilst the remainder must leave the country. The line has also cancelled all shore excursions in Italy.
Oceania Cruises, for example, is dropping calls to Italy on its summer Mediterranean sailings on Sirena and Riviera with passengers embarking in Athens rather than Venice.
Princess Cruises has been much in the headlines with Diamond Princess in Japan and Grand Princess in California hit by coronavirus. Further afield Royal Caribbean has cancelled two sailings on Jewel of the Seas in the Middle East due to the closure of Doha to cruiseships.
As of today itinerary changes to northern European itineraries by the cruiselines do not appear to be taking place. However with ports such as Bergen (see below), Stavanger and Alesund in Norway and preventing passengers from leaving the vessel and the Estonian government taking the decision to refuse cruiseships to call until May 1, it is likely that alterations will take place.
Meanwhile a number of cruiselines have implemented short-term changes to cancellation policies. Holland America Line, for example, is allowing guests booked on upcoming cruises to cancel with 72 hours notice departing through May 31 2020 and receive a future cruise credit. In addition a compassion policy has been implemented that lets guests with high-risk health issues cancel at any time with documentation from their health care provider.
Other examples are Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd and MSC Cruises which have announced that anyone booked through to July 31 2020 can cancel with 48 hours’ notice and reschedule up to December 2021.