As cruise industry prepares to sail, choppy waters are ahead

FILE - In this March 31, 2020, file photo, cruise ships are docked at PortMiami in Miami. The cruise industry hopes to set sail later this summer. But with images of coronavirus-ravaged ships still fresh in many minds, there could be years of choppy water ahead. The global cruise industry expected to carry 32 million passengers and take in $71 billion in revenue this year. That will fall by at least 50% this year, says Euromonitor International, a consulting firm. Euromonitor .(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Some cruise lines are hoping to set sail later this summer but with images of coronavirus-ravaged ships still fresh in many minds, the industry could face years of choppy water ahead.

The global cruise industry expected to carry 32 million passengers and take in $71 billion in revenue this year. That will fall by at least 50% this year, says Euromonitor International, a consulting firm. It took the industry three years to recover from the 2009 recession; this time, it will take longer, Euromonitor analyst Alex Jarman said.

“Unlike the previous downturn, the pandemic has put the safety of cruises into question,” Jarman said.

Cruise lines stopped sailing in mid-March after several high-profile outbreaks at sea. More than 600 people fell ill aboard Carnival Corp.’s Diamond Princess while it was quarantined off the coast of Japan, for example. Fourteen passengers died.

Christina Kerby was trapped aboard a Holland America cruise ship in February after several ports in Asia refused to allow it to dock.

“I will take a cruise again someday," said Kerby, of Alameda, California. "Just not anytime soon.”

Since they stopped sailing, Carnival, Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line — which control 75% of the market — have furloughed thousands of staff and obtained billions in bank loans to stay afloat. Major cruise companies weren’t eligible for U.S. government loans because they’re incorporated overseas.

Norwegian warned of a possible bankruptcy in early May, but then raised $2.2 billion through a sale of stock and debt. It now says it can withstand a shutdown for as long as 18 months. Smaller operators could have more trouble, experts say. Virgin Voyages, a new cruise line owned by Richard Branson's Virgin Group, has twice postponed its first sailing. Virgin Australia — an airline in which Branson holds a stake — filed for bankruptcy protection in April.