Positive forward cruise bookings against the backdrop of the global Covid pandemic are an indication of a strong future for the sector, according to industry leaders.

Asked if high-profile outbreaks and images of guests being quarantined on cruise ships in the spring would have a lasting impact on demand, Norwegian Cruise Holdings chief executive Frank del Rio told the Seatrade Cruise Virtual conference: “I don’t think it will have a lasting effect.

“It’s lingered on a bit but we’ve seen these situations occur elsewhere now, not just cruise ships, so I don’t think it’s going to have a lasting effect on demand to cruise.”

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He added: “The bookings we are seeing are stronger than we were expecting. The fact that we’re booking as much business as we are for the future, against the backdrop we have, is an indication that cruising is strong for the future.”

Del Rio revealed that Regent Seven Seas had sold its 2023 world cruise in record time, adding: “We’ve never sold out a world cruise ever. It’s not just cruises to nowhere or to private islands. These are world cruises and exotic cruises [that are booking]. People love their normal life and they just can’t wait to get back to it.”

He added: “Cruising is going to come back strong. This is just a bump in the road. This has been a very strong and healthy industry. People have heard about viruses on ships – whether it’s norovirus or coronavirus – because we’re the only industry that has to report it.

“Hotels, resorts and airlines don’t have to. But that makes us better operators. By law, we have to report and we’re happy to do it.

“No industry has taken it on the chin more than the cruise industry. We’re the only industry that has been shut down on the spot but the optimism level is much higher than it’s been for a long time.”

Pierfrancesco Vago, chairman of MSC Cruises, agreed that any negative impact on demand would not last.

“At the start, a lot of the authorities didn’t know what was going on,” he said.

“They imposed different interpretations of how the emergencies should be handled. There was ignorance. We all had to understand in a very sudden mode.

“Ships are sexy and attract attention. In other industries, no-one cares, but on a cruise ship…wow! Everyone wants to know. But now we are the only industry in the world doing 100% testing, plus we have the ability to control our environment on board, so demand will be strong.”

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