Cruise ship passengers’ ‘surprising’ response to coronavirus

Cruise ship passengers are still booking trips in droves, despite coronavirus. Source: Getty

Around 10 per cent of all coronavirus cases in Australia have stemmed from the Ruby Princess cruise ship, but that hasn’t stopped bookings for 2021 surging 9 per cent on last year. 

At least 440 passengers across Australia have tested positive for coronavirus after leaving the Ruby Princess, which docked twice in Sydney in March, and five of the 19 deaths attributed to the virus have been passengers on the ship. 

And it isn’t just Australian liners: the Diamond Princess was held off the coast of Japan for nearly a month as the virus spread throughout the cruise. 

The Grand Princess also saw the virus spread through passengers and crew while docked off the coast of California, and the Holland-American ship Zaandam is travelling to Florida with 200 sick and four dead passengers.

German ship, The Artania, is still docked in Fremantle, despite calls from the Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan to leave Aussie shores. It’s currently responsible for 40 coronavirus cases in WA hospitals.

But sentiment towards cruise liners hasn’t changed, new reports reveal.

“Booking volume in the last 30 days for 2021 is actually up 9 per cent versus the same time last year,” UBS equity analysts wrote in a March 31 report on cruise lines. 

“That includes people applying their future cruise credits from sailings that were cancelled this year, but still shows a surprising resilience in desire to book a cruise.”

Voyages to Asia and Alaska were seeing the highest numbers, according to the report, while Caribbean and Bahamas cruises were also performing well. 

Meditterannean cruises were the only major itinerary down in the last 30 days, which UBS put down to Europe being at a challenging point in the containment cycle.

However, all itineraries including Europe were still up year-on-year in volume for 2021, with Royal Caribbean showing the strongest volume increase, the report found.

And cruise ship refund policies could be the reason: “Cruise seller says that 76 per cent of those who have cancelled their cruises are taking the option for a future cruise credit of 125 per cent of the value, rather than getting 100 per cent refunded today,” the report found.

Can it last?

According to the report, an economic slowdown in the US and in Europe could negatively affect booking levels and ticket pricing.

“The cruise business is subject to competitive pressures and the strength of the underlying economy as well as capacity decisions which are made years in advance,” the report stated.

And, profitability of these cruise liners could be affected by fluctuations in wages, fuel prices and interest rates.

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