CHARLOTTE, NC – During the peak of the coronavirus pandemic the hospitality industry took a massive economic hit. A hit that is far from over. At least not until the dust settles. Allowing travelers to determine the best ways to satisfy their wandering spirits in the safest possible manner.
While yearning for new adventures may not be diminished, challenging bold new horizons to seek out old worlds beyond the new will probably require more research than before. Travel patterns could change dramatically. That means that once the social interaction of the “six-foot rule” no longer exists that tourism will immediately roar its way back to pre-pandemic levels.
For the moment it’s just too early to tell.
The Coronavirus impact on travel
Three of the hardest-hit disciplines in the world of global travel have been airlines, hotels/resorts, and cruising. Among that trio of businesses, however, the world of mega-sized seagoing vessels – which are in reality glorified floating cities – are taking the brunt of the criticism from the media as journalists search for someone to blame for the spread of the disease.
Cruising is a good choice to demonize, if for no other reason than its product is so vulnerable to a COVID-type of crisis.
True, airlines and hotels/resorts, like cruise lines, deal in high volumes of people in concentrated areas. All well and good when the world is healthy. However, there’s one critical difference between a cruise and its competitors; duration.
Clientele on airlines and in hotels typically have a significantly faster turnover rate than cruise ships. The cruise ships may have between three and five thousand passengers concentrated in the same space for a week to ten days or as much as three weeks. Sometimes even longer.
Just how big have these sea-going behemoths become? Consider that any time a ship is in port in the capital city of Juneau, Alaska, the ship is always the largest building in town.
Therein lies the “Catch 22” for the cruise industry. Cruise ship operators must bear some of the responsibility itself regardless of how unintentional their expansion plans may have been.
As ships have become considerably larger and more glamorous in recent years, they have also morphed into prime incubators for any contagious outbreak of a disease.
As expected, many cruise companies say they are getting a bum rap. That when it comes to taking the heat for the COVID-19 spread, cruise ships are not any more to blame.
To be sure, on any given cruise, ships are in multiple ports where passengers mingle with on-shore personnel throughout the day before setting sail in the evening.
In the early stages of the virus, there was no lack of information available to the public at large. What there really was, as so often happens with a major breaking news event, was the absence of good and accurate information.
Reports out of Italy were sketchy at best and being on the cusp of the start of the high travel season only added to the confusion.
Travelers were caught in no-man’s-land trying to determine whether to travel, stay at home, postpone or cancel their trips.
Meanwhile, Italy had similar problems trying to decide how to deal with the inevitable influx of fear-based cancellations while, at the same time, trying to report COVID updates and somehow salvage their tourist economy at the same time.
The result, of course, was chaos.
Individual travelers know better than anyone how quickly such turmoil can erupt. It stands to reason that similar situations could arise for the tourism industry.
Cruises that are already at sea or just prior to departure have the toughest choices to make.
If a ship is in the middle of its itinerary, when does the captain decide to continue onward or to limp into the nearest port and send everyone home? It’s a tough call. One that will be readily criticized by half the passengers no matter which strategy he chooses.
Ships that are getting ready to sail have the same sort of dilemma
At least they have the advantage of being able to make a decision. Before getting caught while out on the sea.
In a damning April 25th article in the Washington Post the paper blames the cruise industry for seemingly everything from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius to the Johnstown Flood;
“Even as the virus exploded into a global story, cruise officials failed to immediately recognize flu-like outbreaks as possible signs of the coronavirus, passengers said. In many instances, they did not immediately isolate passengers in their cabins when sickness broke out.”
The cruise industry immediately went on the defensive by countering that
“(we) took extraordinary efforts to limit outbreaks of the new virus on ships and get tens of thousands of passengers and crew home safely as the pandemic spread, going beyond measures adopted by other industries.”
That argument may appear valid on the surface. But what it really does is reaffirm how many shades of gray make up the story. Perhaps the cruise industry did go beyond what was required. Rules may apply to one provider of the world of mass tourism that does not make sense for others.
Therefore it is quite possible, and likely, that the argument that measures undertaken by one member of the tourism industry at any given time may not have even been relevant for that type of business no matter how cautious they were.
Pure numbers alone show how discrepancies can easily manifest themselves to distort the truth. Last year airlines carried an estimated 4.54 billion people to every nook and cranny of the globe. Compare that number with 30 million passengers who took cruises. Thirty million is a large number, but it is still considerably smaller than 4.54 billion, by a long shot.
So which travel business is the biggest offender when it comes to determining responsibility for the spread of coronavirus?
Both transport large numbers of people who are in close proximity to each other. So why do airlines avoid the same intense scrutiny that is being leveled at cruises?
It’s easy to point fingers by assigning specific dates to specific cruises. But there’s another aspect to that argument as well and you can lay that one directly on the passengers themselves. Cruisers had access to the coronavirus data just the same as the cruise lines choosing to gamble.
However, the cruise industry is not guiltless. In recent years leisure shipping lines have been operating under the philosophy that “bigger is better.” Today almost every new ship dwarfs the now infamous image of the Titanic.
If nothing else, CoronaVirus has issued a stern warning to the business of travel on the high seas that if, indeed, size does matter, then it’s time to get its house in order before its captive clientele begins looking for less hazardous ways to travel.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.