RCI says bookings remain strong in Caribbean, despite COVID-19

Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited (RCCL) Vice President of Government Relations Russell Benford said yesterday that bookings are still strong despite fears of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

The $150 billion cruise industry has been one of the hardest hit since the global spread of COVID-19.

In the past few weeks, COVID-19 cases stranded thousands of people on two separate cruises ships.

Over the weekend, the U.S. state department bluntly warned that U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship.

However, Benford said yesterday that bookings remain strong.

“We saw really lower than expected rescheduling of cruises in the Caribbean,” he said.

“So the market remains strong here in the Caribbean, especially The Bahamas. The rest of the world, as you can see, has been impacted in different ways.

“But people are still cruising to the Caribbean. And we’re still carrying guests and demand is still high.”

Benford commended The Bahamas’ government for implementing the most stringent COVID-19 protocols the cruise line has seen in the midst of the pandemic.

“From day one, the requirements for The Bahamas was more strict than any other country that I’m aware of…far and away, by the number of days that people could have been in an affected country,” he said.

“And they stuck to that. So, the two things that I would really commend The Bahamas on doing is first of all clarity of the requirements, which is what we ask for as an industry. We just want to understand what the entry requirements are of a country because we do respect that no matter where we work.

“And the second thing is just to be consistent with the requirements because what we’ve seen is that in certain places, the requirements change day to day and it makes it very difficult to operate a business.

“So, Dr. Sands has been very clear since day one. He’s been very consistent with his message. Every time I reached out to him, he’s been available to me.”

Benford added, “You’d be surprised to know that, when I talked to Dr. Sands, the testing capability is here in The Bahamas and you can turn tests around in 24 hours. But in the United States, we don’t have access to the kits and it takes about 48 hours to turn around.

“In some ways…the response has been more advanced here than we have even in the United States.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on Wednesday.

The virus, which can cause pneumonia, originated in Wuhan, China, late last year.

Since then, it has spread to all continents except Antarctica, with major outbreaks in China, South Korea, Iran and Italy.

As of yesterday, there were over 120,000 cases of the virus across the globe. Over 4,700 people have died, with the majority of deaths in mainland China.

The virus has been spreading throughout the United States, where there were over 1,300 confirmed cases and 38 deaths.

Benford said Royal Caribbean ships have upped measures to prevent outbreaks of the coronavirus on its ships.

“Anybody who enters a cruise ship, who boards a cruise ship today, we do a temperature scan,” he said.

“It’s a touchless temperature scan. That goes for our guests and the crew that is there. We have more doctors that are aboard each ship. We have more nurses. We’ve been working really hard with the U.S. government to get COVID testing kits on board.”

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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