Royal Caribbean To Eliminate Buffets on Post-Coronavirus Cruises

Royal Caribbean announced during a conference call that health and safety changes being planned for a post-coronavirus cruise industry include eliminating traditional buffet offerings.

According to, Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley revealed during a virtual call with the cruise line’s senior vice president Vicki Freed that buffets will have to be at least temporarily removed from ships to avoid any concerns about the spread of illnesses.

“I think in the beginning, there will not be a buffet, that’s how I see it,” Bayley said. “We will utilize the space, we will utilize the Windjammer, but in all probability, it won’t be a classical buffet.”

“It will be something more akin to a restaurant,” Bayley continued.

The likely removal of buffets from dining areas is just the latest in a long line of health and safety changes being made to ensure the cruise line will be able to sail when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifts its no-sail order.

Royal Caribbean is also working with the CDC on enhanced measures to protect the health, safety and security of guests, crew and the communities visited when operations resume.

Last month, the cruise line filed a patent application for its own branded version of a face mask to protect passengers and employees. Dubbed Seaface, the plan is for the safety devices to be implemented on all of the company’s ships.

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Royal Caribbean anticipates travel agency consolidation

After the coronavirus crisis, there may be fewer travel
agencies due to consolidation and more advisors working from home, Royal
Caribbean executives said on Monday. 

During a virtual media roundtable, Royal Caribbean
International senior vice president of sales, trade support and service Vicki
Freed, said, “None of us have a crystal ball but I think on the top end, you’ll
see consolidation of retail locations,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean execs anticipate an increase in
home-based workers, including independent contractors. 

“I think the home-based type of setup for travel advisors
will likely grow even more than it was,” said Azamara COO Carol Cabezas.

Although she anticipates fewer travel agents working in
retail locations, Freed indicated that the number of agents could be relatively
unchanged post-coronavirus, although it could take some time to ramp up to that

“As we reintroduce cruising to so many people, I think in
time they will grow their business back,” Freed said.

Royal Caribbean is guiding travel agents about relief
options available to small businesses and individuals in the Cares Act. Royal
Caribbean calls its education program RCL Cares, and the company launched the
effort to help keep its sales force intact. 

“We want to make sure we have a healthy distribution system
that is going to be part of our future,” Freed said.  

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More Caribbean Nations Implement COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

Antigua and Barbuda on Monday joined the growing list of Caribbean destinations directly impacted by COVID-19 exposure, although the dual-island nation continues to accept visitors. The Cayman Islands, meanwhile, closed its airports to “avoid further proliferation of the coronavirus in the country,” government officials said Monday.

Popular with both land-based and cruise-ship visitors, the two destinations are the most recent Caribbean nations to implement measures intended to, in the words of Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority officials, “guard against further spread of the virus within the destination.”

Antigua and Barbuda has one confirmed case of coronavirus, said officials in a statement. “The individual is currently in self-isolation at home in Antigua and is being monitored” [while] “all identifiable contacts that this person has had, are being investigated.”

While the country continues to accept visitors, foreign nationals who have visited China, Italy, Iran, Japan, Korea and Singapore the past 28 days are banned from entering the country. Antigua & Barbuda officials have also enacted “precautionary measures” including hotel educational campaigns focused on “identifiable prevention, preparation and identification.”

A “national multi-sectoral” COVID-19 task force has been established by Antigua and Barbuda’s government to assess “all international and regional developments related to COVID-19.”

On Monday the Cayman Islands government announced the temporary closure of Owen Roberts International Airport and Charles Kirkconnell International Airport. “As a government we recognize that this difficult decision will be a disruption throughout our economy,” said Moses Kirkconnell, the Cayman Islands deputy premier and tourism minister.

“However the lives of our people in the Cayman Islands are our first and foremost concern,” he said. “We are confident that the long-term benefits of this border control measure will help us to prevent wider impact throughout our country.”

Among the most-visited Caribbean cruise destinations, the Cayman Islands’ government has also ceased accepting cruise calls for 60 days, a period that ostensibly extends beyond the CLIA member lines’ deadline for resuming operations. Officials acknowledged the measures would negatively impact visitor arrivals in the tourism-reliant nation.

“The closure of the seaport and now the airport are stringent measures, however we are a small country that operates on a very large international platform,” Kirkconnell said. “Safeguarding our people is the top priority of the Ministry of Tourism and one that I would hope the business community will understand and support,” he said.

The protocols will impact visitor arrivals in both nations as CLIA-member cruise lines have moored their Caribbean fleet and travelers from a number of nations are now unable to visit the two countries.

“We know the measures we are putting in place now are going to have an impact on our day-to-day lives and businesses,” Kirkconnell added, “but we are fully confident that the efforts we make today are to protect us all. The resilience of our dynamic tourism industry will lead the Cayman Islands to economic rebound.”

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Agents Say Caribbean Travel Thus Far COVID-19 Resistant

Top travel agents say Caribbean vacations remain popular even as COVID-19 cases emerged this week in a handful of destinations and hoteliers on one major island warned of coronavirus-driven cancellations.

Several agents are positioning Caribbean islands as alternatives to COVID-19-impacted regions. “Depending on their interests or travel goals, we’ve tried to shift to similar experiences [by] moving multi-gen families from Tuscan estates to Caribbean villas, replacing a French Riviera stay for a St. Barth’s getaway and swapping Croatia island-hopping for yachting around the BVIs,” said Samantha Collum of River Oaks Travel Agency.

Caribbean destinations are also increasingly an option for West Coast-based travelers said Vicki Lundy-Wells, owner of Carefree Travel, with “quick connections from the West Coast as well and also with some nonstop flights from the Midwest and East Coast” to Caribbean islands.”

Lundy-Wells cautioned that agents must stay updated on the recent outbreaks in the region. “Clients are paying close attention and expect travel advisors to be informed and knowledgeable.],” she said.

While no cases have originated in the region, a few Caribbean islands are dealing with returning residents and visitors who contracted COVID-19 elsewhere. Jamaica’s minister of health and wellness on Tuesday confirmed the island’s first COVID-19 case, a Jamaican woman who had returned to Kingston on March 4 from a United Kingdom trip. The patient reported to the public health system on March 9 and has since been in isolation.

Authorities “dispatched health team to the home of the patient for assessment and initiation of public health measures,” said Dr. Cristopher Tufton, Jamaica’s health and wellness minister. Jamaica has local capacity to test for the virus, via training provided by the Pan-American Health Organization, Tufton said.

Sint Maarten officials this week confirmed two COVID-19 cases on French Saint Martin; the patients are in isolation “at the Hospital on the French side and will remain there for 14 days,” said officials in a statement.

There are no cases on Sint Maarten’s Dutch side. “Screening processes at our ports of entry have been stepped up in cooperation with the airlines, who are also following screening protocols based on World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations,” said officials.

Earlier this month Dominican Republic officials reported the country’s first COVID-19 case, a tourist visiting from Italy. Meanwhile the Cayman Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis and Saint Lucia, none of which have reported any COVID-19 cases, have issued statements announcing the activation of national preparedness and response plans.

The destinations have also placed travel restrictions on non-nationals with travel histories that include visits to COVID-19 impacted regions. In some cases, islands are placing quarantines on nationals with recent travel histories to impacted areas.

Caribbean countries are also reporting to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), said destination officials. In addition, the Caribbean Tourism Organization and Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Assn. are recommending travelers monitor the CARPHA site for regular updates.

While it has reported no cases, hoteliers in one major Caribbean destination say they’re feeling a COVID-19 chill. Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) members have suffered “a significant decline in business as a result of the virus, said Stephen Austin, the group’s chairman.

BHTA is still polling hotel members to uncover “the true impact of cancellations and forward bookings,” said Austin. Yet to date 41 of 81 hoteliers surveyed reported a $1.2 million March revenue loss tied to 2,853 room cancellations.

“It is quite significant and we are working now on an emergency plan through the BHTA to try to help our members through this time,” he said.

A different scenario has played out at Caribbean cruise ports. While a handful of ships turned away by local officials concerned about potential COVID-19 exposure, cruise calls to the wider region have proceeded largely uninterrupted.

“Jamaica’s refusal of the cruise ship demonstrated a proactive approach and we are confident in recommending the island as a go-to getaway,” said Tom Carr of Preferred Vacations.

Nevertheless, as the Caribbean remains the cruise industry’s largest operating region, the business’ struggles with at-times contradictory government statements regarding the advisability of cruise vacations present a clear challenge.

Importantly, experienced agents advise that their colleagues consult with clients in a straightforward manner that is sensitive to concerns regarding their health and well-being, whatever destination their plans may entail.

“In my 15 years of selling luxury travel, we have encountered similar “crises” – SARs, Zika, the economy – that throw the world into panic mode, which results in an immediate spate of cancellations globally,” said Stacy Small, owner of Elite Travel International.

“Given this, I have encouraged my clients to make decisions based on what they feel comfortable doing, not push or encourage anyone to travel at a time they do not feel safe and/or are concerned about their well-being.”

“If a person is captivated by fear and the 24-hour news cycle, we take the approach that it’s best to offer a change of dates for those traveling in the near future,” said Carr. “If clients aren’t traveling for some time, it’s our recommendation to wait it out. And so far, so good.”

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Royal Caribbean Comments on Liquidity Actions and 2020 Outlook

WHY IT RATES: Royal Caribbean Cruises is increasing liquidity in order to compensate for the detrimental effects of the coronavirus scare and has retracted its previously-released 2020 guidance. — Laurie Baratti, TravelPulse Associate Writer

Royal Caribbean Cruises today announced that, due to the spread and recent developments related to the COVID-19 outbreak, the company has increased its revolving credit capacity by $550 million, bolstering the company’s liquidity.

The company is pursuing additional actions to improve its liquidity by reducing capital expenditures, operating expenses and taking other actions to improve liquidity by at least a further $1.7 billion in 2020. The company is also planning reductions to the 2021 capital expenditures and operating expenses.

The company had previously communicated that its 2020 guidance did not include the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. Given the recent government actions and the heightened impact and uncertainty of changes in the magnitude, duration and geographic reach of COVID-19, the company is withdrawing its first quarter and full-year 2020 guidance.

“These are extraordinary times and we are taking these steps to manage the company prudently and conservatively,” said Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO. “I am proud of the work our teams are doing to address this unprecedented situation.”

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SOURCE: Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. press release.

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