Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain compared the year-long shutdown of cruises to a basketball game, where the most activity occurs at the end of the game.
In a new video update, Mr. Fain talked about the major milestones happening right now, and how it all correlates to getting cruise ships back into service.
"Like the frenetic last minutes of that basketball game, and I think that there are signs that we are approaching the end," Fain said in his remarks. "We all want the same thing, safe and healthy cruising."
Included in his comments was mention of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recent update to its Framework for Conditional Sail Order (CSO), which Mr. Fain characterized as, "tougher restrictions on cruising out of U.S. ports."
He talked about the fact the CDC said they see a way to restart in the U.S. as early as July, which he added Royal Caribbean Group is "eager to work with them towards that goal."
"My fondest desire is that we can follow President Biden's target of July 4th as a major reopening milestone. The evidence is that we can do it. Now is our opportunity to work together towards that common goal."
"We look forward to such a constructive dialogue with the CDC and others to make that success even broader."
Positive signs happening now
Richard Fain sees a lot of key milestones happening now that point to the fact things are moving in the right direction.
First, he sees the fact almost 45% of eligible Americans have already received at least their first dose of the vaccine is exciting.
Second, the cruises Royal Caribbean Group has been able to carry out abroad has provided a lot of valuable data for crafting a safe way to offer cruises going forward.
"We're able to see what actually happens and draw conclusions based on empirical evidence rather than random hypotheses. And that empirical evidence is overwhelmingly positive."
Third, combination of widespread testing and effective contact tracing gives Mr. Fain the confidence that they can, "reduce the risk of an outbreak on a ship to levels below that on land."
Fourth, people are frustrated with the restrictions of life right now due to the virus.
Ever since the cruise industry shutdown in March 2020, executives have been looking for ways to restart cruises safely, but there is one concern that is at the top of everyone's mind.
During a webinar with travel agents this week, Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain spoke on a variety of topics, including how the cruise line is working with governments to ensure everyone onboard and in the communities they visit safe.
In his discussion, Mr. Fain touched on the one question that he says everybody is concerned about: an outbreak on a ship.
Between Royal Caribbean, the Healthy Sail Panel, and government officials, Mr. Fain said the issue of how to handle a case onboard is at the top of the list of tasks associated with cruises restarting.
"We don't want to have a situation where somebody has a case, because you don't go anywhere without somebody having a case on land or sea, but where somebody can have a case and infect other people."
"You end up in a situation where you have an outbreak and that disrupts the vacation of everybody on board."
"We had preplanned programs for taking care of that...we have contact tracing of amazing sophistication, so we're able to catch the case early, isolate it, and not disrupt either the vacations of the other guests, but also not cause a problem to the local community."
This plan that Mr. Fain refers to has been a success so far with local governments, and he believes the buy-in from government is allowing more ships to return to service this summer.
"It's been very successful. And you can see this, the momentum is building. It is very much speeding up. More and more places are seeing the value of this and seeing that the system works. And so we're moving forward."
Role of vaccines in cruises this summer
While Royal Caribbean says it has not made a determination on if the Covid-19 vaccine will be required across the fleet, ships that have been announced to restart cruises this summer all require it.
Will vaccine be required for all sailings in the future or simply those specific international homeport?
Mr. Fain said right now it depends on the port.
"It's determined on a case by case basis in cooperation, in dialogue with the local authorities."
However, the role of vaccines today, June, or later this summer could change.
"As the science continues to progress, I think we will change and we will adjust to that. And I think we're now trying to predict the future. Remember, these cruises don't start till June. And so we're starting on this basis that they will require vaccines, but that could change tomorrow."
"We do respond to the facts and the evidence, and so we started out on the new cruises that we've announced and they are going to require initially vaccines. But we don't know how long that will be a feature."
What about the CDC?
The road to cruise ships restarting in the United States runs right through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Mr. Fain spoke about the status of things with the CDC.
Taking a slightly different tone than previous comments about the CDC, Mr. Fain called the current situation with the Conditional Sail Order as "pretty unworkable".
Fain cited the fact four and half months after the Conditional Sail Order was announced, cruise ships are still in phase one.
"You can see that's pretty unworkable for us and for the CDC. And we think that that the science is simply moved ahead of the Conditional Sail Order."
"It's now out of date. And we, and the Healthy Sail Panel, and I think others in the industry, feel that the time is to move on in light of the dramatic changes we've seen in three areas, the vaccine, the testing and the contact tracing."
In fact, Mr. Fain teased that more sailings from places outside the United States will be coming soon.
"It all reinforces the view that there's an enormous amount of pent up demand eager to cruise again. I expect that we will soon be announcing more such itineraries."
In addition, Mr. Fain highlighted the fact across the Royal Caribbean Group of brands, over 100,000 people have sailed with just ten positive cases.
"This is really our objective: few infections and certainly lower than would be expected in the surrounding community, all handled smoothly without ruining everybody's vacation, protection of guests and the surrounding community from a big spread of the virus."
"In essence, we've just had a hundred thousand test cruisers and demonstrated that the process works."
Addressing the hot topics
The bulk of the video is dedicated to hitting some of the common questions he has been asked.
Here is a breakdown of these questions, and his responses.
When will cruises restart?
"The answer is, as I said before, we already have. Hundreds of thousands of happy cruises in various parts of the world. And it's fast growing with recent announcements of more such cruises, including the Caribbean."
"By the way, on average, our ratings on these cruises are seven points higher than our ratings were pre pandemic. Clearly, our guests are loving the experience."
Will vaccines be required to cruise?
"The answer to that is we don't know. We have announced three cruises that will require inoculations for all adults, and there are likely to be more."
"But each circumstance is different. And I would note that the cruises we are currently operating are operating without requiring vaccines. But the vaccines set the stage for whatever we do. And all of our efforts are designed to make our cruises safer than walking down Main Street, USA."
"The situation changes every day and we will be guided throughout by the science as it evolves and gets better and more accurate."
What about the CDC's Conditional Sail Order and when will their next technical rules be issued?
"That's more complicated, but it's still very important."
"The CDC issued the Conditional Sail Order last October in an effort to provide a path for cruising to reopen in the United States. The CDC has an amazing responsibility throughout the United States, and we all know they're working incredibly hard to balance the risks of the disease while limiting the pain and suffering to society."
"As most of you know, the order called for several phases and for the CDC to issue detailed technical rules for each phase. The first of such technical rules was scheduled to be released in December, and many of you was asked when we expect to receive them. In fact, I would answer that the pace of science has simply overcome that process."
"When the Conditional Sail Order was written, there were no vaccines. The disease was on an upward trajectory and headed towards a terrible peak. Testing was less available and more costly and therapeutics were limited. In general, the situation looked very bleak back then."
"What a difference five months makes."
"Today, the vaccines and other measures have changed the trajectory from a steep climb to a dramatic fall. The pandemic isn't under control, but it is getting there and society is beginning to open up."
"I was thrilled when the CDC said that now that I'm vaccinated, I could play with my extraordinary grandchildren without a mask. I was over the moon when they said it was safe for schoolchildren to sit three feet apart instead of six. So we're making important and impressive progress."
"Last October, preparing for resumption of service based on extensive protocols made good sense. But today, a vaccine approach makes much more sense than this old protocol based approach."
"The vaccines are bringing down the incidence of Covid-19 in society. The testing enables us to catch cases early, and the preparation we're doing allows us to handle individual cases safely and simply."
"We don't know what the CDC is contemplating to address this very different set of circumstances. But just as they and other public health officials are doing elsewhere, we expect they will all adjust to the changes that have been and are taking place today."
"The Conditional Sail Order was a very positive step at the time, but that time has passed. We look forward to a constructive dialogue with health officials in the United States and elsewhere for the path forward under these new circumstances."
Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain posted a new video update talking about a variety of topics, including if passengers will be required to get the Covid-19 vaccine to sail.
The debate among cruise fans of if cruise lines will or will not require a vaccine to cruise has been a hot topic, and it comes on the heels of Royal Caribbean announcing Odyssey of the Seas will sail from Israel this summer and require all guests to have the vaccine.
"Whether we will require vaccines of all of our guests on all of our ships hasn't been decided yet, but we are prepared to go where the science leads us."
The overwhelming message in his eight minute long video is not to prematurely start going back to normal and let a resurgence in the virus disrupt all the progress that has been made so far.
"These are the most hopeful days we have had in a long time. But as we get closer to our goal, we inevitably also get more impatient to reach it."
"I know that we thought we were closer to the end before, but the vaccines really have changed the game. And despite all the blows our industry has taken, it is clear that there will be a huge demand when we open our doors."
Mr. Fain sees "a rapid and dramatic decline in cases and fatalities", which he alluded to in his November update.
"It's exactly what we need to reopen society. However, this is the current trend and we need to be careful that we don't screw it up."
Mr. Fain sees the key to getting cruise ships sailing again is getting the disease under control, and the vaccines are the "ultimate weapon" to reach that goal.
Speaking of ships restarting, Mr. Fain reiterated cruise ships will be phased back into service slowly, instead of the entire fleet coming back at once.
"You will hear a growing cacophony of happy vacationers who can finally leave their homes as we gradually phase in more and more cruises."
So far Odyssey of the Seas is the first ship to require the vaccine for its sailings from Israel. Cruises on Quantum of the Seas from Singapore do not require the vaccine.
None of the other major mainstream cruise lines have committed to any decision on requiring a vaccine either, although some are also requiring their crew members to be vaccinated.
Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain provided a new video update where he talked about the current state of affairs related to the global health crisis, as well as addressing cruises resuming.
Mr. Fain has produced a number of video updates during the cruise industry shutdown that are produced for travel agents, but they provide insight for the public.
Towards the end of this new video update, he tackled the question he is most commonly asked: "when cruising will resume in strength?".
His answer is no one yet knows for certain.
"My answer is consistently, I don't know. But more recently, my answer has been, I don't know, but that's the good direction to be going in."
Mr. Fain sees promise in the fact Quantum of the Seas has been able to restart operations successfully in Singapore for a few months, and other cruise lines have been sailing in Europe.
"It's going to take a while and we just need to be patient."
"But it is happening and these early cruises are going to give us information that will help inform how we can operate safely and that's going to give us all confidence in an earlier and safer restart."
Mr. Fain sees the vaccine and new health protocols as a key component to moving towards a restart, and in the short term, protecting crew members who are still working onboard their cruise ships.
"The vaccines and other steps we are taking are also important to protect the crew. In the beginning, it was really very difficult to ensure that the crew members were virus free. But the new vaccines, testing and other steps are giving us the opportunity to protect them as never before."
Despite the obstacles the cruise industry faces, as well as an extremely long shutdown, Mr. Fain believes there is tremendous demand for cruises.
"People clearly have pent up demand and we can't wait to satisfy it."
"Every day we see signs that people want to get out and away. That pressure will help us once we can reopen and restart."
Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain shared a new video with travel partners that answers the question of how can he be hopeful for the near-term future when we are inundated with terrible news every day.
"We are approaching the point where we can run out the clock on this terrible disease."
Mr. Fain has been releasing video updates every few weeks that share his thoughts on what is happening currently with the global health crisis, as well as providing hints at cruises being able to restart.
This week's video focuses on projections of estimated infections, and how over the course of the spring and early summer, a combination of vaccine rollout and other rule changes could bring the daily count down.
Mr. Fain started out the video by saying he believes, "2021 will end up in a very good year for us all."
The projections come from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), which is an independent global health research center at the University of Washington.
Their stats indicate infections and fatalities will peak at the end of January, and then rapidly fall from there.
IMHE's projections are based on the fact 22% of the U.S. population has already had the virus, along with the growing number of vaccinated people, as well as people wearing face masks.
"They project that by the end of April, we can expect levels 20 times lower than today's peak and the lowest they've been since early last year."
Mr. Fain conceded virus mutations could affect the projections, along with possibility increased vaccine rollout could make it better.
The current events reminded Mr. Fain of hurricanes in Florida, with the anticipation, preparation and constantly changing updates associated with a storm.
"The TV rightly shows the winds howling in the trees, bending during the storm, and it is horrific. But we also look at the projections to see where the storm will be a little later on. It takes some pretty sophisticated modeling and a lot of experience, but we can get a good indication of the path of the storm."
"Not perfect, but pretty good. And I think the covid tempest is similar. We're in the midst of the worst part of the storm and it is horrific. "
"But we need to consider the likely direction over the next few months, and that's why I'm so positive."
Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain has a new outlook on cruises restarting, and it is a significant departure from his outlook in the past.
Mr. Fain shared a video update with travel partners on Monday that acclaimed the approval and imminent distribution of new vaccines that he believes will be the primary way to get cruise ships sailing again.
His tone was still upbeat, but he now thinks the key to cruises resuming will be the arrival of a vaccine, and not only new health protocols.
"Previously, we expected cruising to resume based on creating a virtual bubble of safety on a ship, even if the rest of the country was experiencing significant spread," he admitted to viewers.
"Today we envision that the key, but not the exclusive factor, will be the vaccines rather than purely the protocols."
The nearly year-long cessation of operations has resulted in an enormous amount of waiting, and much more than anyone predicted, "We've waited a long time for this," Mr. Fain admitted. "We never imagined that it would take this long and we never imagined that we could survive with such a lengthy shutdown."
However, Mr. Fain believes cruises will be able to come back faster than previously thought due to the impact vaccines will have.
"Although the first cruises will be later than we expected, the resumption of cruising will ramp up faster and be more robust."
It is the first time Royal Caribbean has openly spoke about what happened last week, and it appears the situation that played out on Quantum of the Seas proved the importance of new protocols.
"The protocols and collaboration with the Singaporean authorities resulted in swift containment of any potential covid threat, some guest inconvenience, and a recognition that working together our cruises can operate and deliver great experiences."
The experience on Quantum of the Seas allowed Royal Caribbean to run through a real-world situation that luckily had no repercussions.
"The false positive gave us a real world chance to test our procedures, and they performed well."
"Such experiences really allow us to test our processes and prepare better for a full operation."
Mr. Fain also believes that once the public health threat is reduced because of the arrival of a vaccine, demand for travel will surge.
Many travel experts believe there is a lot of pent up demand by the public to get back to the fun things that so many people gave up on in 2020.
Mr. Fain said "demand will grow quickly" once cases begin to fall and cruises begin to open back up.
"People are tired and frustrated, and they want to get away from this Groundhog Day experience. The demand for new experiences will blossom."
Royal Caribbean Group Chairman Richard Fain published a new video update that talks about the positive outlook a new COVID-19 vaccine will have on the world.
Throughout Royal Caribbean's shutdown, Richard Fain has shared periodic video updates that provide insight into his views of the current situation facing the cruise line.
Mr. Fain believes the combination of promising vaccines in scope, broader and faster testing, and treatment options available, means they now have the end of this pandemic in sight, as well as Royal Caribbean's return to service.
While he spends the majority of the time in the video highlighting the amazing advances science has made in combating the virus, the outlook on when exactly cruises might resume remains unclear.
"We're definitely not at the end. However, I believe that looking ahead, the range of likely outcomes is narrowing and the timeline is becoming clearer."
In his own words, Mr. Fain answered the question of when cruises will restart with a simple, "we still don't know".
"We are getting a clearer picture. Our hopes for a very early start up have been dashed, but so, too, is speculation that this current state of affairs will last until the end of the range."
Royal Caribbean remains committed to making cruise ships as safe as possible, and Mr. Fain reiterated the promise that going on a cruise ship would be safer than being at home.
"I've said repeatedly that our goal is to make cruising as safe, or safer, from the virus than on Main Street, USA. And we're making the effort now to ensure that they comes with appropriate speed and confidence."
Mr. Fain admitted that the process of returning to service has taken longer than he had hoped, but the outlook is getting better.
"It's taken longer to get here than we had hoped, but it's clear and clearer that we are approaching that date."
Royal Caribbean Chairman and CEO Richard Fain shared a new video update that talked about the progress being made on new vaccines, as well as update on what Royal Caribbean is doing to get approval to offer cruises again.
Mr. Fain kicked off the video by highlighting the "transformational" progress being made on the vaccine front, with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showing incredible results in their third phase of testing.
In addition to the vaccine progress, Mr. Fain mentioned Eli Lilly's antibody treatment and Regeneron as two very promising treatments that have provided a "quantum leap in our ability to deal with the disease".
"It's the extraordinary improvement in drugs and medical knowledge that's making COVID-19 progressively less dangerous every single day."
"And the real measure for the threat of this disease is the number of hospitalizations and deaths it causes. Getting that under control will be an enormous milestone for all of us."
Working with the CDC
Mr. Fain also talked about the Conditional Sail Order, which provides a framework for cruises to be able to resume if certain steps and milestones are met.
He said Royal Caribbean is up to the task of working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to get cruises back on the water again.
"We are determined to work with the CDC to implement, adjust and clarify all those requirements so that we can meet the goal of safe and healthy sailing."
Moreover, Mr. Fain said it will not be a quick process, but it is achievable.
"It won't be easy and it won't be quick, but it will be thorough and it will be effective."
In preparation for these hurdles set up by the CDC, Royal Caribbean is doing what it can to be "masters of our own destiny".
"We have established rigorous protocols designed to make cruise ships safer than comparable places on land. We're training our people and we're preparing our ships to face all of these challenges head on."
"It's not the end of the journey, but it is an important milestone on that journey and it provides a clear pathway for our resumption of service."
"Our industry has suffered over the long seven months, but now we finally have a pathway forward."
Mr. Fain believes the 74 recommendations of the Healthy Sail Panel were instrumental in getting the CDC to understand that the cruise lines had a clear path to restart cruising safely, without putting the public at risk.
"The plan's main goal was to define a way to make a cruise ship a healthier environment with less risk of disease than Main Street USA."
The framework established by the CDC will require a lot of work for passengers to be able to get back onboard.
"It will take some time to go from where we are to our first commercial sailings," Mr. Fain said in his video. "I can't wait, but it will take some time because the order calls for a lot of details that will need to be specified, clarified or adjusted over the coming period."
Mr. Fain also alluded to the fact that cruise lines have to undertake a variety of steps to come close to restarting their businesses, whereas on land, businesses there had no such oversight.
"We have to train our crew in the new procedures and we have to get them safely back to our ships. This includes having every one of them take multiple covid tests before they leave home and after they arrive to their home port and then engaging in a quarantine period after they've done all the testing."
"We have to reposition our ships, update their certifications, provision them, make physical modifications to support the physical distancing and upgrade the medical care on board. "
"And most significantly, we are committed to and the framework calls for a series of trials, sailings where we will road test all of our new protocols using employees and other volunteers to stand in for guests."
While this process will be anything but quick, Mr. Fain recognizes that the public, travel agents, and the cruise lines are all eager to see ships sail again.
"We are significantly closer to resuming service than at any point since March, and we are so much better prepared for that moment than we have ever been."
New case spikes around the world
The CDC's announcement to provide a way for cruises to restart coincided with a significant rise of new cases in the United States, and around the world.
Mr. Fain commented that the while this second wave is not good news, he sees positive signs that this may be the "virus's last big surge".
Mr. Fain even went as far as to make a prediction, which is something he noted he has resisted doing in the past, "I'm feeling good enough about the future to make an exception here, about the period that will follow this surge."
He believes there are four reasons for optimism: masks, testing, therapies and vaccines.
"While each of those factors will help contain the spread next year, it's a cumulative combination of all of these taken together that I hope will constrain the risk of the virus causing another comparable surge after we get through this current one."