It's been a week since Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NASDAQ:NCLH) pushed out all of its future sailings through the end of October. It's no longer alone. Larger rivals Carnival (NYSE:CCL) (NYSE:CUK) and Royal Caribbean Group (NYSE:RCL) announced on Wednesday they would be canceling all of their cruises until November.
Wednesday's shift was a coordinated move by members of the Cruise Lines International Association to voluntarily bump their travel resumption dates through the end of October. It's a more defensive stance than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest No-Sail Order, which only nixes voyages through the end of September.
From seethe to shining seethe
It's not a surprise to see the suspension timeline getting extended more aggressively over time. The industry was in a state of denial at first. Sailings were initially canceled for just a couple of weeks, then a month or two, and now we're nearly three months out from the earliest possible restart date.
Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line wanted to inconvenience as few of its passengers as possible at first with limited cancellations. The cruise lines also wanted to limit the refund requests that come with suspended sailings, and despite raising billions apiece since the pandemic started, not every player has been as prompt in honoring displaced passengers asking for their money back.
It's now been 91 days since I successfully submitted a refund request for a canceled Baltic cruise. It was supposed to be returned to me within 90 days. A customer service call yesterday concluded that my proceeds are "in house" but that it will take another 15 to 20 days to get my money returned to my original payment source. A cruise line that has raised billions has me on a 105- to 110-day cycle to get my money back. Can the industry survive the ill will?
I will eventually get back on a ship. It just won't be on that cruise line.
Regardless of how the individual cruise lines fare in living up to refund requests, the cancellation cycle is going to wear on some of the industry's biggest fans. Folks who opted for enhanced future cruise credit over cash refunds have no assurances that we'll be traveling again by sea anytime soon.
No one will be surprised if November comes and goes without a sailing departing from the U.S. market. Right now it may not seem to matter. This was a lost summer season, and the fall is typically slow even when the going is good. The next big wave comes over the holidays. Getting ships sailing safely by then is important. With every passing month we'll see more potential passengers swear off cruise travel, and the challenge to woo first-time customers will get harder. Throw in the general skittishness of international travel and the expanding global recession, and the clock is ticking on the cruise line operators. Timing is everything right now.