Wow! If you work in the cruise industry, that is about all you can say, I suppose. Again, just wow! The industry, came to screeching halt in March from the spread of the Covid 19 virus, and its resumption appears to be … who knows when.
Why? Let’s be real. If your industry relies on large, crowded, high density clientele, you are in for real trouble as we move forward because of this virus. Professional sports, amusement parks, theaters, all these sort businesses, will be in for drastic changes in how they operate from this point forward, if they do not want to be labeled a public health hazard anyway. And that could happen, if the spikes return after the inevitable loosening of the social distancing, and stay at home regulations begins in the near future. Most, like stadium sports and amusement parks, can adjust their volume to make their businesses more safe. Outdoor sports might space seating far enough apart, and control the exit and movement of people to maintain social distancing for example. Same for theaters and concerts. Even bars and restaurants could do that, and probably will. But cruise ships are different. Fewer people on a cruise ship is really just like putting fewer sardines in the can. They’re still fish floating around in the same can of oil.
Cruise ships do all the things that make businesses a health hazard for the Covid 19 days we find ourselves in today. Large groups, closely confined, constantly waiting in lines and crowded areas, and on top of that, you’re floating around together for days on giant petri dish with swimming pools. I’m no scientist, but I can’t think of too many industries that could put you at a higher statistical risk of contracting someone else’s virus, than that. Maybe a lab worker at the CDC? Maybe not?
So, as they start strapping safety and cleanliness regulations on businesses, and we re-open the economy, my guess is the cruise industry will get more than most. Probably should. The few ships that did have outbreaks before the shut-down, would be evidence as to why that is so. But the fact that so few ships actually had outbreaks, given how many there actually are, 314 globally, also shows how well the ships actually do work hard to prevent viruses. If they had not been doing so, this very contagious and silent monster would have been on all ships without a doubt, and it wasn’t.
As we move forward with getting businesses and society going again, it is important to remember a few things though. First, until we get a vaccine that prevents the virus, and we will very soon I’m sure, we must learn to live around it as we open things back up. The second thing to remember is that the initial outbreak, before we managed to “flatten the curve”, was the result of us living totally blind to this invisible threat that was already among us. That won’t happen again, at least not to that degree. But my guess is we will see spikes in different areas, and at different times, and if one of those is on just re-opened cruise ships, it would be an even worse PR kiss of death than the original outbreak. Because of that, my guess is you’ll be able to eat off the table on a cruise ship after this, because they will be even cleaner than before. If that is even possible, and that might be the problem.
Its funny, I’ve made my living off cruise ships for years, and have never been on one. Lots of reasons but not the least of which, is that they can be breeding grounds for viruses, and that concerns this vacationer. I’m not that different than many too. Maybe most for that matter. Again, you put that many people together, that close, with all those bars and hot tubs, and what do you expect.
And over the years, I’ve seen many times our entire tiny little town became sick from viruses that were brought to us by cruise ships. We are a very isolated community, so when everyone in town gets sick, and the ship that was there on mid-week had to be cleaned because of a flu outbreak, we know where that came from. We’ve seen how viruses can move through a ship, and even where those ships stop, and are very aware of it on a day to day basis in how we clean, both our facility and ourselves. For me, because I shake so many hands all day, I wash my hands constantly and hand sanitizer is bought by the jug. Even after I’ve handled the money each day, I wash my hands as I leave out of habit, because I’ve come to know how to live with viruses in my job. Cruise ships are like that too, and again, will now become even more so.
Unfortunately for them though, the cruise lines are like the red headed step child at the family reunion of big industry tourism. They get picked on for being the polluters of the seas, when in fact, they are probably the cleanest of the filthy groups who use the oceans for commerce and their business. Decades ago, cruise lines operated just like the US and other navies around the world, global shipping companies, corporate fishing ships and all the others do today, who regularly dump 100% of their trash and garbage into international waters. Cruise ships can’t do that.
Why? Because the consumers who vacationed on these ships demanded that practice stop back in the 90’s or they would stop buying vacations, and the result were regulations put in place that makes it much harder, and not cost effective to dump anything into the ocean now. If a cruise ship leaves a home port with a specific number of passengers and crew, it must return with a specific amount of both trash, and sewage, or documentation on where it went otherwise, or they are fined. It is not a perfect system, but it has dramatically changed how Cruise lines impact our oceans. An aircraft carrier or cargo ship is not subject to any of that sort of regulation, and both dump massive amounts into the ocean, and the cruise ships get the blame. Those damn red headed step children!
And don’t get me started about fertilizer and pesticide run-off from the endless line of coastal hotels and golf courses that cover the US shores from Texas to the Carolinas. Where do you think that stuff runs off and into! And I’m sure the amount of sunscreen and beers alone left in the waters off the shores of hotels and resorts, which is enormous, is way more impact than that of 314 heavily regulated cruise ships each day. But let one of them accidentally dump a load of plastic forks and straws that gets posted on someone’s Facebook, and watch how fast the negative PR machine kicks them in the teeth. Given they are no where near the worst polluters on the ocean, I kinda feel sorry for them. I know, feeling sorry for cruise ships being the smallest polluters on the ocean is like feeling sorry for the nicest axe murderer on death row, but I’m just sayin’.
Like I said earlier though, when the cruise ships do begin to operate again, my guess is they will be the cleanest place anywhere one can vacation. Anything less could be a devastating end to their industry, if that has not already happened. Before this hit, even when the industry went to great lengths to prevent the spread of viruses, and they did, they still could not totally prevent breakouts from time to time. It might very well be that no amount of cleaning and wiping can prevent a virus from spreading when you are so close, to so many people, for such an extended period of time. I’m sure they will be forced to become not only even cleaner, which means more personnel and expense, but they will also be surely required to limit the number of people on board, which means the vacations will cost more, or the lines will have to work for less. Neither will be healthy for an industry that markets to the cost-conscious vacationer.
For us in the cruise industry, it is a scary time. It seems now, it will be a month to month wait, as we learn what we need to do to live safely with the virus as we move forward. But it is particularly scary because even though we’ve always lived with viruses, this one might be different in one very important way. Because of all the socio-economic impact globally from Covid 19, this might be the one that makes us live from now on in a more conscious way about co-existing with viruses. We’ll pay more attention now when we have an outbreak in some remote part of the world for example, and be sure it is contained better, that is for sure. We’ll probably all wash our hands a lot more too. But it will go much further than that and some businesses and activities might not be able to survive the new more cautious way of living. Cruise ships might be one of them.
The fear of viruses made the cruise business hard enough before, from the costs to prevent them, to the constant PR battle dealing with the occasional outbreak, and now adding a new level of caution to the vacationers in the US, might be more than their business can finally take. I guess we’ll just have to wait to see what the impact of that caution is on the cruise lines in a month … or two?
To be continued