By: William Mogyoros  | 

No Smooth Sailing

At the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic, and restless with the familiar four corners of our rooms, my friends and I embarked on a trip to Hawaii. Although this may be perceived as a risky move, one that we were discouraged from taking, it was ultimately a fantastic trip. However, the exciting vacation did not come without restrictions. From constant COVID-19 tests to the strict state mask mandate, unfamiliar restrictions made this trip different from your typical vacation. Being that this was four months ago, the vaccination rollout was in its beginning stages. According to current reports, around 55% of Americans aged 18 and over have received at least the first dose, which positions the travel and vacation industry in an entirely different place than it was months ago.

As vaccinations become more readily available, consumers are beginning to feel more comfortable with traveling. Responding accordingly, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated that fully vaccinated individuals are allowed to travel domestically without being required to quarantine or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Although the CDC remains cautious with regards to international travel, these new guidelines are a step in the right direction. As a result of this increased optimism, multiple aspects of the travel industry have benefitted tremendously. According to travel-booking agency Koddi, average hotel prices have seen appreciable progress over the past 30 to 45 days, and are now 5% less than they were one year ago. However, a few weeks ago, prices were set at a significantly higher 11%. The week of April 11, hotel demand in the United States was up 13.7%, the second-highest level this year. According to data from analytics platform Visible Alpha, statements from the top four airline operators predict summer seat capacity at around 78% of 2019 levels, which surpasses current forecasts.

Although various sectors of the travel industry appear to be successful, the cruise industry remains “docked.” This traces back to the beginning of the pandemic when the tumultuous relationship between the CDC and cruise industry began. During the early stages of the pandemic, several cruise travelers were infected with COVID-19. One notable example is the Japanese Diamond Princess cruise, where 700 passengers contracted the virus and fourteen died. A Wall Street Journal investigation concluded that cruise lines continued sailing despite knowing that passengers on board tested positive. This incident portrayed the industry in a negative light. Although the CDC released their “phased plan” to restart cruises, it will be a lengthy and expensive process of practice runs to ensure safety, and cruise ships were deemed high-risk for contraction. Despite the CDC’s stamp of approval for those who are fully vaccinated to travel, there is pushback from cruise industry leaders. President and CEO of Carnival Corporation & plc Arnold Donald expressed to the WSJ, “We’d just like to be treated similarly to the rest of the travel and entertainment and tourism sector.” Cruise industry analyst Stewart Chiron expressed similar sentiments towards the CDC, stating, “Travel is resuming at a very high level. Airplanes and hotels are packed, and no industry is better suited to restart than cruising. The lines are prepared, safety protocols are in place and now, with the high level of vaccine distribution, they feel it’s a good time to resume operations.” 

Whether the CDC’s extreme caution towards cruises is justified or not is a point of contention, but resulting from this is an inherent conflict between those looking to recall the past and others who would like to forget it. As Tara Kirk Sell, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, explains, “the C.D.C. wants to prevent people from getting sick and the cruise lines want to go back to business and start making money … so there’s going to be a central disconnect and tension there as we sort our way through this pandemic.” Although the comment refers to cruises, this tension will likely remain until the travel industry experiences a complete rebound.

Photo Caption: Although various sectors of the travel industry appear to be successful, the cruise industry remains “docked.” 
Photo Credit: Pixabay