Sharon Stone is a fan of cruises. She cruises with her husband and they cruised with their children when they were younger. She even cruised with Disney through a particularly nasty outbreak of norovirus several years ago. In total, the Florida resident has been on nearly 15 cruises and is planning another vacation through Royal Caribbean in May. But, as reports circulate of travelers infected with coronavirus (COVID-19) aboard ships, amid stories of quarantines and mass infection across the globe, Stone is now having second thoughts.
“I’m feeling very nervous,” says Stone, who is in her 60s.
A new program from Royal Caribbean will give Stone and her husband the option to postpone her vacation without incurring fees, but she’s yet to make a decision on what to do. Convincing Stone, and the tens of millions of potential travelers like her, that taking a cruise vacation is perfectly safe, is the task weighing on the industry as the coronavirus continues to spread.
“It’s going to take a miracle for the cruise-line industry to recover in less than a decade,” says Gene Grabowski, a partner at crisis communications firm kglobal.
In recent years, business has been booming for the category. Last year, some 30 million consumers took cruises, up from 28.2 million in 2018, according to the Cruise International Association, a trade group. Norwegian Cruise Lines recently unveiled a massive integration deal with singer Kelly Clarkson.
Yet, such robust figures are now under threat. Over the weekend, the State Department warned consumers against traveling via ship, due to “increased risk” of catching the virus. Experts expect that marketers will need to change their advertising tactics and plan for rougher seas ahead.
“All sectors of travel are dealing with a significant drop in demand, and we haven’t seen a widespread drop in global demand for travel in years,” says Amy Hinote, founder and editor-in-chief of VRM Intel, a travel publication.