Wanderlust is a regular series where we speak with a notable individual from the travel industry.
Like many sectors, the cruise ship industry has taken a beating during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about the challenges facing cruise companies during this difficult time, we reached out to Liu Zinan, chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises, Asia. Liu joined the Royal Caribbean team back in 2009 and was tasked with developing the company’s operations and business opportunities in China and Asia at large. The following interview was conducted in early March.
The COVID-19 outbreak has caused massive disruptions to the cruise industry. What have been the biggest challenges for Royal Caribbean?
[The pandemic] poses a rapid response challenge to a complex commercial body such as the cruise industry. Fortunately, the cruise industry has developed to a very mature stage and has effective response mechanisms. Impacted by the pandemic, several Royal Caribbean homeport sailings in China and overseas decided to suspend operations in the early stages [of the COVID-19 outbreak]. Until now, we have canceled a total of 13 sailings of Spectrum of the Seas (pictured above) to support the epidemic prevention measures. Moreover, consumers’ willingness to travel has been affected terribly. Going forward, we will work hard to restore consumer travel confidence and willingness and take active measures to eliminate consumer cruise travel concerns and provide relevant information.
How long do you think it will take the cruise industry to recover from the pandemic?
The recovery time of the cruise industry largely depends on the development of the pandemic situation in various countries around the world. If the whole of China – including Hubei province – can achieve zero new confirmed cases and clear existing confirmed cases before the end of March, plus a one-month consolidation period, it is entirely possible that the tourism market, including the cruise industry, will begin to recover in early May.
We should have confidence in the cruise industry since it’s already been through 200 years of development; the international cruise industry has accumulated professional experience and crisis response systems.
Liu Zinan, chairman of Royal Caribbean Cruises, Asia. Image via Royal Caribbean Cruises
What steps has Royal Caribbean taken to ensure that all passengers enjoy a safe and healthy cruise?
Royal Caribbean always puts the safety and health of its customers and crew first. In daily operations, Royal Caribbean’s global fleet has operating procedures that exceed international standards and strict on-board hygiene practices to ensure the sanitation and safety of cruise ships.
Royal Caribbean’s international fleet has an outbreak prevention plan to respond to various emergencies, and all cruise ships are using the most advanced HVAC system to ensure safe ventilation on the entire vessel. And all cruise ships have a strict system in terms of space per capital, sanitation and epidemic prevention measures, protection and disinfection procedures and emergency medical facilities and equipment.
For example, in the early stages of COVID-19, we paid close attention to and evaluated the situation. After careful consideration, we immediately began screening guests from high-risk areas. Then we initiated an emergency working group to cooperate with ports, customs and other departments to implement effective screening procedures. At the same time, in cooperation with travel agents and call centers, we communicated and coordinated with guests on itinerary changes, and introduced preferential rescheduling policies and free cancellations to protect guests’ rights and interests.
These measures have successfully ensured the safety of all passengers and crew who have operated sailings, while also maximizing the rights of passengers.
Turning away from the virus: Which destinations in Asia do you think will be the ‘hot spots’ in 2020-21?
Japan has always been a popular destination for Chinese tourists and it still will be. Our cruise destinations include not only popular big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe and Fukuoka, but also some niche destinations like Nagasaki, Kagoshima, Sasebo, etcetera. These unique destinations allow passengers to experience a different side of Japanese culture.
Southeast Asian countries – led by the Philippines and Vietnam – are becoming popular with tourists due to their unique cultures and pleasant climates. We are constantly adding more tourist destinations and visiting new spots, so that customers traveling with Royal Caribbean can discover new surprises.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
[Cover image via Royal Caribbean Cruises]