What happened

The latest cruise industry news is not great. According to CNN, COVID-19 numbers are setting new records in the U.S. today, with 10.5 million total cases and 240,000 deaths. Meanwhile, the first cruise ship to resume sailing in the Caribbean since the pandemic struck, the SeaDream Yacht Club's SeaDream 1, just found out that five of its passengers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and the whole ship -- passengers and non-essential crew -- are now in quarantine.  

That doesn't sound so good for cruise ship stocks hoping to resume cruising once the CDC says they're cleared to do so. And yet, as of noon EST, shares of Carnival Corporation (NYSE:CCL) (NYSE:CUK) and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NYSE:NCLH) are both up 6.5%, while back on the mainland, MGM Resorts International (NYSE:MGM) is racking up 7% gains.

Collage showing a cruise ship, a man in a face mask and a microbe

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Here's the thing: People are tired of COVID-19 -- and investors are people, too. While aware that it will take weeks for Pfizer's new coronavirus vaccine to receive final approval, months for manufacturing of the vaccine to scale up, more months for it to be distributed, and perhaps a year or more for the virus to finally be stamped out, they nonetheless hope that the pandemic will eventually be brought to an end.

In evidence of that, Norwegian Cruise announced yesterday that at least one of its several cruise brands, Oceania Cruises, has just set a "record-setting day for a summer-season launch," with 90% of its reservations paid in advance in cash and one-third of these reservations coming from folks who had never sailed with it before.

Now what

Clearly, vacationers are going stir-crazy, and are looking to get back out and have fun again -- even if they have to make reservations more than a year ahead of time to do that. And while that may not provide immediate financial relief for the beleaguered cruise industry (or for hotels and resorts such as MGM, either), it does speak volumes about the level of pent-up demand for vacations there is.

Ultimately, those travel and leisure companies that survive this pandemic are going to meet a tidal wave of discretionary consumer spending awaiting them on the other side. I don't know that now is precisely the right time to invest in that demand -- but I do know that the time will come.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.