By PAUL MOTTER
The picture of the cruise industry was looking mightly bleak just about six weeks ago. On top of the devastation of the economy killing the profitability outlook, swine flu came out of nowhere and caused the immediate cancellation of dozens of port calls in Mexico.
Today, just about four weeks after the initial news that cruises to Mexico would be halted completely, they are already scheduled to come back. By mid-June cruises to Mexico should be back on schedule almost as if nothing had ever happened. This development was vitally important to the cruise industry, as the Mexican Riviera is the fourth most popular cruising region for North America-based cruise lines.
We say "almost" as if nothing happened because we fully expect there to be strict measures to maintain sanitary conditions onboard. Passengers will be carefully screened for flu symptroms upon boarding and during the cruise. Any hints of an outbreak will be immediately contained. Make no mistake, the cruise lines need Mexico, but they need to maintain their reputation for onboard health and safety just as badly.
Carnival and Royal Caribbean had just relocated two mega-ships on the West Coast to offer year round Mexico cruises, Mariner of the Seas arrived last January and Carnival Splendor arrived in March. Both had just started their seasons when the itinerary was pulled out from under them, sending both of them north to Canada instead of south to Mexico. The disappointment to the guests was as apparent as it was to management. When passengers booked on these re-routed ships were polled it showed conclusively that over 90% of the cruisers would have opted to take their chances in visiting the Mexico ports despite the virus had they been given the choice.
Now that the virus has become next to non-news, especially in Mexico where the threat was downgraded last week, the cruises by Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess, Holland America and other cruise lines are already re-scheduled to return to Mexico by mid-June, latest.
This week, New Kids on the Block are entertaining thousands of fans on Carnival Imagination sailing on a three day cruise to the Bahamas. Tickets started at close to $2000 per person and the entire ship was sold out in a matter of hours. Stock market prices of both Carnival and Royal Caribbean are up close to 10% today.