Sep 27, 2021 - Economy

The cruise industry stages a comeback campaign

A cruiseship on the ocean

Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady sets sail for the first time next week. Photo: Virgin Voyages

The cruise line industry is in the midst of a PR campaign of a lifetime: “It’s safe to come aboard, we promise.” A sign it’s working: Carnival, a mega-operator, said bookings for this time next year already top pre-pandemic levels.

Why it matters: The industry was an early epicenter for COVID-19 outbreaks. Its comeback hinges on how comfortable people feel aboard the ships.

A milestone: Carnival's Grand Princess set sail this weekend for the first time since March 2020, when thousands of its passengers were stranded as cases were discovered onboard.

  • This time, masking is partially required, capacity is capped and vaccines are mandatory.

Cruises are the rare mode of travel that require passengers to be vaccinated, and the industry has gone to great lengths to protect the policy (see: Norwegian’s suit to block Florida’s anti-vaccine passport law).

The corporate spin: “We have to show people this is the safest way to travel. ... I'm confident it's safer than going to the drugstore or going to the movie theater,” Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages, tells Axios — citing its COVID-19 protocols.

  • The company sets sail for the first time from Miami next week, complete with a facility to test vaxxed passengers before boarding. (It’s adults-only, so unlike competitors, it’s not dealing with how to limit kids not yet eligible for shots.)

What to watch: All of the world’s biggest cruise companies said the Delta variant dented near-term bookings, the latest sign of the hold the coronavirus has on the industry.

Go deeper