In a remarkable turn of events, a cruise line announced last night that it was suspending its operations until May 1, 2020 in light of the coronavirus pandemic. This was the first time that a major cruise line finally did the right thing in light of the emerging coronavirus virus.

Viking Cruises published an open letter from its chairman Torstein Hagen in which he announced that his company is temporarily suspending the company’s operations of its river and ocean vessels embarking from March 12 to April 30, 2020. He stated that the emerging virus presents significant risks of quarantines or medical detentions, which could diminish its guests cruising experiences. Mr. Hagan announced that as of May 1st, Viking will be in a better place to provide evaluate whether it can deliver the experiences which its guests expect and deserve.

The company’s chairmen explained that an increasing number of ports, including Venice, Monte Carlo and Bergen, have temporarily closed to cruise ships. Major attractions such as the Vatican and museums in Europe have closed, and some countries are imposing restrictions on public gatherings and visitors.

Viking’s chairman also explained that as a “private company with strong finances,” it does not have to “worry about quarterly profit expectations – and that flexibility allows us the ability to do what is best for our guests and our employees.”

Viking is offering either (1) a cruise voucher valued at 125% of all monies paid to Viking or (2) a cash refund equal to the amount paid by  its customers. Guests will have 24 months to use their voucher to  make a new reservation on any river, ocean or expedition cruise. This offer is in stark contrast to the refund policies of most cruise lines which were slow to permit customers to cancel / reschedule their cruises without penalty and typically refuse to offer cash refunds.

A short video of Mr. Hagan calmly explaining Viking’s decision was also released last night.

Mr. Hagan is an astute Norwegian billionaire who earned a degree in physics at the Norwegian Institute of Technology, won a Fulbright grant to study in the United States, and received an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Viking’s approach to this pandemic is a far cry from the selfish and petty actions of the major cruise lines which are struggling to come to terms with their falling cruise stock prices. Carnival Corporation (CCL), Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), and Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL) are trading at low as 25% to 40% of their 52 week highs. CCL is down to around $21.75 from a high of around $52, NCL is down to around $15 from $60 and RCL is at $44 from $135.

The chairman of the cruise industry’s trade organization, Adam Goldstein, stated yesterday during an interview on CNBC that it allegedly is safe to cruise, echoing his earlier comments that “it is critical that Americans keep traveling” via cruise ships.

Ex Royal Caribbean International president Goldstein was widely mocked on Twitter for his selfish and tone deaf comments. He appeared to be largely motivated because his cruise stocks had fallen nearly 70% in the last two months.

Goldstein’s comments come at a time when CLIA has embarked on a media campaign to try and convince the public that cruising should not be interrupted by the pandemic, notwithstanding the U.S. state department advisory against taking a cruise.

While Viking’s prudent decision should be applauded, unfortunately other cruise lines like NCL is reportedly engaging in lies and deceptive conduct. Yesterday, Miami New Times reported that NCL pressured it sales team to mislead potential customers about the coronavirus.

Viking’s announcement that it is temporarily suspending its cruise operations was made essentially at the same time that the NBA announced that it was suspending the professional basketball season this year.

This responsible move by the NBA was made on the same day that Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIAH stated that there should not be public gatherings of more than 250 people at this time. Cruise ships today obviously contain far more than that figure, with from 2,000 to over 6,000 guests and 1,000 to over 2,000 crew members per ship. There is widespread understanding that huge cruise ships essentially act as “floating petri dishes” or, as some say, super incubators in spreading the highly contagious virus.

Congratulations to Mr. Hagan and Viking Cruises which seems to be the only cruise organization at this time which is demonstrating a genuine commitment to the “health and safety of its guests and crew members.”

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Update: Princess Cruises just announced that it is finally suspending operations for 60 days.

Skift’s Rosie Spinks sums up this development perfectly:

“On the question of why this cruise line in particular has appeared to be the most affected by the virus, Swartz said, “We don’t really know.” She later pontificated: “Perhaps the diverse mix of people on board our ships is reflecting what’s going in communities around the world.”

Critics have said otherwise, pointing to Princess Cruises history with infectious outbreaks of norovirus and other pathogens, as well as the industry’s overall regulatory framework which has long been subject to claims of lax health and safety standards.”


Photo credit: Top – Fortune magazine.