The entire travel industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the cruise sector has likely received the biggest blow. Several of the first large coronavirus outbreaks occurred on cruise ships, leaving passengers stuck at sea for weeks while they were denied docking at multiple ports — events that may have badly damaged the reputation of the cruise industry.
Despite Carnival’s intention to resume cruising operations on August 1, the future of many major cruise lines looks grim. Norwegian Cruise Line is in such dire straits that it expects to file for bankruptcy soon, citing the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.
In a recent securities filing, Norwegian said it could not guarantee that it wouldn’t have to see waivers from lenders, and is at risk of default if it can’t amend credit agreements. According to the filing, the coronavirus outbreak, “including its effect on the ability or desire of people to travel (including on cruises), is expected to continue to impact our results, operations, outlook, plans, goals, growth, reputation, cash flows, liquidity, demand for voyages and share price. These factors have raised substantial doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.”
If the cruise line can’t maintain enough liquidity, it conceded that its “business and financial condition could be adversely affected and it may be necessary for us to reorganize our company in its entirety, including through bankruptcy proceedings, and our shareholders may lose their investment in our ordinary shares.”
It’s the first time Norwegian — and most other cruise lines — has ever completely suspended all its voyages, and is currently preparing cash refunds for passengers with canceled cruises. Although the company is offering 125 percent credits toward future cruises, half of the cruise guests have rejected the credits and requested cash refunds instead.
Even once travel advisories are lifted, many questions will still remain unanswered, like when international ports will open and what demand will look like for the beleaguered industry.