Cruising will finally start again, but with few Canadians on board.
The CDC publicly confirmed Wednesday that it has no intention of lifting its Conditional Sail Order before it expires on 01NOV. No doubt gleaning this from private discussions already, cruise industry execs over the past two weeks started pulling the trigger on the workaround of the ban: Restarting cruising offshore.
Crystal Cruises was on the leading edge of the wave of announcements, revealing it will homeport in the Bahamas for the first time, with Bahamas-only sailings beginning JUL.
Greeted with resounding cheers throughout the travel industry, Crystal’s announcement was quickly followed by others.
Celebrity Cruises is homeporting in St. Maarten, sailing island itineraries starting in JUN.
Royal Caribbean also announced new, offshore homeports for two ships in Nassau and Bermuda, sailing Caribbean itineraries from JUN.
And Thursday, the company made headlines again, announcing another new homeport in Cyprus, sailing Greek itineraries also starting in JUN, while sister line Celebrity also announced the new ship Apex will homeport in Greece beginning the same month.
These are not the first or only cruise lines sailing in Europe or the Med this summer, but they ARE the first – like all the offshore Caribbean sailings – to be open to all nationalities.
With one big catch: all adult guests must be vaccinated.
Canada: Left Behind
That’s where Canadians miss the boat. Not only is non-essential travel still banned in Canada, with no declared end date to hotel quarantines and other restrictions, Canada lags far behind American vaccination rates.
Global News reports this week “on a per capita basis, the U.S. has so far inoculated 5.2 per cent of its population, while Canada stands at 1.1.”
Other reports add that the government “is delaying second doses of COVID-19 vaccines by up to four months but still hasn’t provided any new guidance to Canadians on what they can or can’t do after getting an initial shot.”
That makes it unlikely Canadians will be part of the offshore, summer re-launch of cruising.
Canada: ‘Great Interest’ – But Few Bookings
Allan Brooks, the Director of Market Sales for Celebrity Cruises in Canada, called the announcement of offshore cruising “a great day for our brand.”
But he admitted to Open Jaw it was not all good news. “We can’t help but feel a little left out of the celebration here in Canada. Patience with our government’s communication and lack of support for the travel industry is wearing thin.”
As for vaccination rates affecting the return of travel, he says “we need only compare to our neighbours to the south,” adding “do I expect Canadian will travel this year? Most definitely, but only once vaccinated. We have seen a massive uptick in bookings for sailings throughout 2022 and expect to see more “close in” bookings for quick trips south (Caribbean) towards the end of this year.”
As Open Jaw reported, Crystal Cruises saw record sales on the day its offshore cruises opened. Carmen Roig, Senior Vice-President, marketing and sales, confirmed, “great interest from our Canadian guests.” She also revealed to Open Jaw, “While the majority of bookings are from U.S. cruisers, Canadians currently rank as the second highest market (to the U.S.) of guests booked,” but she was unable to confirm just how many Canadians actually booked.
Bookings for the first of Royal Caribbean’s offshore sailings opened Wednesday. Open Jaw asked SVP, Sales and Trade Support & Services, Vicki Freed, about Canadian guests, and she told us “once people are vaccinated and restrictions begin to ease, we are confident that travel partners in Canada will start to see an uptick in bookings.”
Crystal’s Roig also added, “I think the key for everyone, including Canadian travellers, is to reassert the confidence in travel and the inherent health and safety of cruising.”
Frustrated – But Resigned
Canada’s travel community can only watch as bookings for the summer pick up south of the border. Some take the view that new offshore sailings will test and refine health measures that Canadians will benefit from when they do begin to cruise again. Others point out increased vaccination rates would change everything.
“It is very frustrating to see that the majority of Canadians are out of the loop to restart Cruising,” Izabela Mattner, with Expedia CruiseShip Centers in Ontario told Open Jaw. On top of low vaccination rates, “the non-essential travel warning is still in effect, plus the mandatory testing/hotel quarantine is all adding to the total discouragement” of any type of travel abroad, she said.
“We are so young in the vaccine protocols and what that will look like for cruising,” Sandra Sundborg with Direct Travel in Montreal told Open Jaw, adding “the risk to Canadians, cruisers and the cruise industry is too great. I would like to see a strong, uninterrupted, return to cruising. An early restart could result in another halt to cruising, and this may do more damage to the cruise industry versus waiting it out a little longer so we can have a strong, healthy return to travel.”
“Although this may not be a popular answer, our planet and certainly Canadians need higher levels of vaccinations and a decline in variants. Are we jumping the gun?” asked Diane Manson of Mountain City Travel in British Columbia, “As anxious as we are to sell travel and cruising, my personal ethics keep me focused on 2022 and 2023. But I’ve never had to dig so deep in the patience well as I am now.”
“As much as everyone desperately wants life to return to normal, I feel that folks need to be patient and wait until the majority of the population has had both vaccines,” Muriel Lee of Cruisenet Tours & Travel in Oakville, ON told Open Jaw. “I do not think it is advisable to plan to travel in 2021. There are great offers out there for river, expedition and mass market cruising, and with the pent up desire to travel, I feel sure that if clients don’t book very soon, availability will quickly disappear for 2022. It’s a waiting game that we all must endure.”
“I do have strong opinions about this – and I won’t make any apologies for them,” Andrew Newman, Founder and President of Black Tie Travel told Open Jaw, adding the government “had one job: Get the country vaccinated as soon as possible. They not only failed they screwed it up so badly that our industry, especially the cruise industry, may never be the same again.”